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Seed Newsvine

The Chicago Tribune finally addressed the issue of the Cary-Grove High School response to Allan Lee’s response to a senior English writing assignment. I add some additional quotes from the article below:

Involving the police struck Jim Barnabee as overkill. He is a creative-writing instructor at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and, like most teachers, has been trained to alert counselors or administrators if he thinks students might harm themselves or others.

He referred a student to a school social worker this year after she turned in a poem about suicide. It was a poorly written “emotional spew” that paid little heed to the assignment—all hallmarks of potential trouble, he said.

He added that Lee’s essay, by contrast, seemed more like the product of an annoyed senior, deserving perhaps of school discipline but not police intervention.

“If you refer someone to the police, all you’re going to do is teach kids to hide their feelings, to shove it down and not let it out there,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what we want to teach young writers.”

The point here is that the CGHS teacher and administrators over reacted rather than practice appropriate measures.

Mary Kay Albamonte, a 22 year veteran teacher said:

“There are some rights that stop at the schoolhouse door,” she said. “Kids can’t just say or do anything. We’re responsible for them, and we have to be vigilant about it. When it’s staring you in the face you have to take it seriously.”

She and other teachers talk about limits with their students at the beginning of their courses. But some say that with violence and sex pervading American pop culture, teens don’t always understand what’s appropriate.

The issue is not one of rights or the lack of rights. It is one of the appropriateness of adult behavior when faced with perhaps inappropriate behavior on the part of one or more students.

If a student is engaged in a criminal act it is fully appropriate to arrest that student and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. When did completing a school assignment become criminal. My goodness, would that we could get more students to complete their assignments. What may have been inappropriate was the content of Lee’s essay which you can read for yourself by clicking on the link. The language of the essay is not, even in the wildest stretch of ones overactive imagination, criminal. Disturbing, perhaps, but criminal, not in a million years.

As an English teacher, I read the essay in the context of the assignment, and through the lens of adolescent pop-culture. I read the words of a senior about to graduate and get on with his life. I read words that reference music, events, and even conditions in the classroom. I read the words of a very typical free writing exercise, one that is neither intended to be finished work nor coherent and cohesive in form.

Lighten-up CGHS. Give this kid some rope.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A high school writing exercise that ended with the arrest of a McHenry County student last week was a dramatic illustration of a dilemma faced by young authors and their teachers: Where is the line that separates provocative from alarming?
The answer, many say, depends on far more than the words on the page.
A student’s demeanor, disciplinary record and relationship with the teacher all relate to whether a bloody piece of work is viewed as a bold, boundary-pushing statement or a thinly veiled threat.
“Judgment calls are required on all of this,” said Chris Meade, an English teacher at Glenbard North with 30 years of experience. “Nothing happens outside of a context.”
Allen Lee, 18, a straight-A senior at Cary-Grove High in Cary, was charged with disorderly conduct after he turned in an assignment that had called for him to write continuously for 30 minutes without making corrections, and without judging or censoring what he produced.

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A number of issues jump out as Chicago Public Schools fire 775 teachers, not the least of which is the simple fact that when coupled with a larger than normal retirement pool due to a program called Pension Enhancement, CPS will have thousands of openings in all grades and subject areas this year. As a teacher educator my students are pleased because their chances of landing a job are increased. I am worried, however, that the removal of experience from the classroom exacerbates an already difficult problem for new teachers–who will mentor the new teacher in the classroom. If experience is removed from the schoolhouse then who will be most effected–that’s right, the students.Another problem I see is that the the mass layoff of 11% of the non-tenured staff wreaks of intimidation along with a failure to properly mentor new, inexperienced teachers. The claim of incompetence is belied by the fact that last year, when over 1000 teachers were fired under the provisions of the union contract that provide the principal with absolute power to hire and fire, 11% of those let go were rehired at the school from which they were let go. Politics, not competence, seems to play a role in who goes and who stays.

While teachers suffer, the fact is that students are the ones who are left out in the cold. Building a stable, independent teaching staff is crucial to educating children. Continuity builds safe expectations for children and parents. Failure of the schools to provide proper induction for teachers does not, as School Chief Arne Duncan says, “allow principals to build the best teams for their schools.” The effect it does have is quite the contrary…arbitrary power to hire and fire builds fear and compliance rather that independence and creativity in teachers. Students suffer when their teachers are mere robots delivering compliant scripted lessons in their classrooms.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
About 775 probationary teachers in Chicago public schools learned Friday
they are losing their jobs in a purge that district leaders say could improve
the quality of instruction in the system’s most challenged schools.
More teachers were let go last year, when a budget crunch forced schools to
cut hundreds of teaching jobs. This year’s dismissals were triggered largely
by performance issues.
Schools Chief Arne Duncan said the cuts allow principals to build the best
teams for their schools, and they are not to solve budget problems or get rid
of outspoken teachers, as some critics have alleged. He said the quality and
quantity of the teaching recruits this year gives him confidence that these
vacancies will be filled by educators who can better reach students in
hard-to-staff schools.

The cuts represent about 11 percent of the district’s estimated 7,000
non-tenured teachers.

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In the inappropriate action of calling in the “thought police” the Cary-Grove High School began a process that may cause Allen Lee’s life to be adversely impacted, perhaps beyond repair.

When I was teaching in the middle school I had an 8th-grade student who was a brilliant writer. She was also into the entire Goth scene. She wore her hair like Morticia, painted her lips and nails black, wore black clothing from head to toe and I cannot ever recall her smiling or laughing. She wrote stories and poems that made reference to blood in the snow, stabbings, trees that strangled strangers as they passed by, death and dismemberment. I thought her writing was brilliant but it was also quite disturbing. In discussions with my principal at the time we decided the best course of action would be to refer this student to our school counselor for evaluation. The counselor met with this student, discussed her findings with the school psychologist, met with me and the student’s parents and we all came to the conclusion that the student was neither a danger to herself or to others. This was the proper and appropriate course of action. But it was not the course of action taken by the Cary-Grove High School.

What evidence, other than Lee’s freewrite, is there that he is a danger to himself or others? What intermediate steps did the high school take to determine whether Lee is an immediate or future threat to himself or others? It seems that they skipped these steps and went for the immediate kill–call the cops. The best they could do was trump up a disorderly conduct charge. And Lee’s life is forever altered.

Shame on the teacher, the principal, the district superintendent, the police and the charging prosecutor for not taking the time to assess the situation. Shame on all of them for not thinking of alternatives that might actually be more appropriate. But, then, when one has already made up one’s mind why does one have to bother with facts or alternative solutions.

The first major fallout is the Marine Corps withdrawing their commitment to Lee’s joining the service. My goodness, the boy hasn’t yet been convicted of anything. What ever happened to the proposition that one is innocent until proven guilty? What will be next in store for Lee as he spins down this Kafkaesque path.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
Like many misunderstood writers, a Cary-Grove High School senior arrested for turning in a provocative class essay offered an “author’s note” Friday by way of explanation.
In it, Allen Lee said his reference to “shooting everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies” was not a personal statement but words a character in a story might say, which explained why the sentence was in quotations.
His references to drugs, he said, were a comment on drug problems at the school.
However, the Marines informed the student Friday that they have discharged him from the enlistment program because of the incident, but that he could reapply if the charges were dropped. Lee said he couldn’t comment, but his lawyer said his client was crushed by the news.
Although students were warned that they couldn’t threaten anyone in their writings, Lee said he assumed those parameters were removed when the teacher told the class to take 30 minutes and write whatever came to mind—without worrying about censorship.

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Seed Newsvine

Allen Lee, an 18 year old straight “A” student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested for thinking violent thoughts and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. Lee’s senior English teacher, after reading what Lee wrote in response to a “Free Writing” assignment was disturbed enough to report the incident to the school’s principal. The school then notified the Cary police and the decision was made to arrest Lee.In America we do not criminalize thinking. What is criminalized is action. One can think all kinds of evil thoughts so long as one does not act on those thoughts there is no crime. In America we do not arrest authors for writing violent passages, for writing bad poetry, for writing propaganda or any other authorial endeavor. There is no Gestapo, KGB, SS, or Secret Police; no thought police and no book burners.

As a teacher of writing and author of a book on teaching writing, I understand the “Free Writing” assignment and advocate two versions of the practice in my book Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom: Strategies and Skills for All Students, Grades 6 – 12 (Jossey-Bass Teacher). I do not, however, advocate arresting a student for responding to an assignment irregardless of how inappropriate I believe the product of the assignment to be. There are appropriate measures such as referring the offending student to counseling services, psychiatric services or social services, parent, teacher student conferences, and the like. But in America we don’t call the cops for thinking and writing.

While I understand the concern the school had considering the horrendous events at Virginia Tech, there is no justification for over reacting to Lee’s writing. The message sent is irreversible, sending a chilling effect through the entire creative process. I would urge the school to reconsider charging Lee with this crime and pursue appropriate measures to try to understand what is going on here.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A Cary-Grove High School student charged with disorderly conduct for writing a violently descriptive class essay had received an assignment that said: “Write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing.”
Allen Lee, 18, responded with passages about “shooting everyone” and having “sex with the dead bodies,” according to a disorderly conduct complaint filed Thursday by McHenry County prosecutors, Tom Carroll, the first assistant state’s attorney, said.
Lee’s English teacher, Nora Capron, and school officials found the senior’s stream-of-consciousness writing so alarming that they turned it over to Cary police, who arrested him Tuesday morning while he was walking to school.
Emling provided a reporter with a copy of the class assignment, which was titled “Free Writing.” It advised students to “write non-stop for a set period of time. Do not make corrections as you write. Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ “

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The DoED press release clipped in part below is interesting, though not complete. There are also questions of trustworthiness of the report. One must never take a single study as being true on its face. Rather serious critical questions must be raised about why one should trust the results. Questions like:

+ Who funded the study?
+ Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings?
+ What is the purpose for undertaking the study?

In the case of this work, the study is internally funded by the DoED and, therefore, is suspect. It is sort of like trusting a study whose findings advise parents to delay toilet training for their children that was funded by the manufacturer of Pampers. The investigators have a bone to pick because their patrons have a bone to pick.

Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings in this study. The fact is no, there is not. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence that is in direct conflict with the results of this particular study.

One can only assume that the DoED funded this study in order to show how good Reading First and NCLB really is. This is not an independent reason for conducting such a study. Rather it is further evidence that the discredited notion that educational progress can be determined by reducing all learning to a single test score number causes teachers to teach to improve that number no matter what impact that teaching might have on the students they teach.

Sorry, but I have to dissent from the DoED. Reading First and NCLB are flawed policies and must be significantly revised.

clipped from www.ed.gov
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education today released new state-by-state data on the effectiveness of Reading First, indicating that students who receive instruction through the program achieve strong gains in reading proficiency. Another measure of the program’s success since its launch in 2002, the state-by-state data demonstrate that Reading First is working to help our nation’s neediest kindergarten through third-grade students significantly improve their reading skills.
The data released today reinforce the positive indicators from the Reading First Implementation Evaluation interim report released in July 2006. According to the interim report, Reading First students receive on average 100 extra minutes per week of proven, research-based instruction from teachers, tutors and reading coaches.
Secretary's CornerNo Child Left Behind

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“These results are yet another confirmation that Reading First is working on behalf of our children,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Farris

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Seed Newsvine

While I might want to argue that NCLB’s goals are neither laudable nor effective, the real point is that NCLB is fundamentally flawed and must be revised in meaningful ways.A movement to return the conversation about curriculum to the forum in which it belongs, the local school level with mitigation from the district but not mandates from above, is one place to begin to rethink schools and schooling. NCLB has effectively cut that conversation off at the knees causing schools and students to suffer. There is a great deal of evidence emerging from study after study, some even funded by the Department of Education, that demonstrate that reducing knowledge to a single test score is counterproductive.

The NEA offers only one approach. There are others. My point is that these alternatives must become part of the national discourse or we and our children shall be doomed to mediocrity

clipped from www.nea.org
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), renamed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, established laudable goals — high standards and accountability for the learning of all children, regardless of their background or ability.
However, the law must be fundamentally improved and federal lawmakers need to provide adequate funding if NCLB is to achieve its goal. Congress has to reauthorize the legislation in 2007, offering an opportunity to make it more workable and more responsive to the real needs of children.
NEA is in the forefront of the effort to improve the No Child Left Behind Act. We have developed a comprehensive Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization�that spells out detailed recommendations to make the law better. (Read more.)

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Seed Newsvine

Just a couple of things here. First, it is difficult to blame teachers for teaching in compliance with the law. NCLB stresses basic skills and not problem solving, Furthermore, NCLB places an inordinate stress level on teachers, so much so that they have little time to attend to things teachers traditionally attended to such as emotional support.Secondly, bashing teachers is unproductive. The profession is hard enough without someone standing over one’s head with a cudgel ready to strike a final blow.

If we are serious about quality education then we need to rethink educational policy so that standards are used to guide conversations about curriculum and curricular decisions, that these conversations are supported by policy and law, that they engage teachers in both horizontal and vertical planning, and that teachers be valued as professional members of the educational team. Otherwise, we are just in for more of the same.

clipped from www.edweek.org
The quality of instruction in elementary classrooms has little to do with whether teachers have the credentials that meet their states’ definitions of “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act, a federally sponsored study suggests.
Detailed observations of 5th graders in 20 states show that students in classrooms overseen by teachers labeled as highly qualified spent most of their time in whole-group or individual “seatwork,” focused on basic skills rather than problem-solving activities, and may or may not have received emotional and instructional support from their teachers.
“This pattern of instruction appears inconsistent with aims to add depth to students’ understanding, particularly in mathematics and science,” write the authors of the study, led by Robert C. Pianta, an education professor at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “

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For the purposes of this post, I define ethics as representing that branch of rigorous thinking that asks questions about human practice and behavior as that practice relates to the good. On this definition, two positions stand out as being at opposite ends of the same continuum. Bakhtin thinks of ethical interactions as being the state in which one is responsible to the Other. Levinas, on the other hand, thinks of ethical in terms of the face-to-face encounter in which one accepts responsibility for the other. The to/for distinction is found in the children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web. Three characters help me to think in terms of this distinction. Charlotte, Templeton and Wilbur, each for different reasons, are characters with whom one can draw on the to/for distinction.

Templeton, the rat, represents the to of Bakhtin. In Bakhtin’s sense, one is responsible to the Other, however, as one accepts this responsibility one is acting in one’s own self-interest. For Bakhtin, a personal reward, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, is always attached to the act of being responsible to the Other. In the case of Templeton, usually at Charlotte’s urging, he accepts responsibility to Wilbur only when he is convinced that there is something in it for him. Charlotte, on the other hand, is purely Levinasian. She is responsible (better written as Response-Able) for Wilbur. On this stance, Charlotte accepts the idea that she is response-able even before the existence of the Other is known. Response-ability is a selfless act, pointing to the absolute imperative of action for the Other–even at the risk of one’s own existence.Ethical Space

Then there is Wilbur himself. In the story Wilbur is the one who waits. Wilbur is the recipient of Charlotte’s for and Templeton’s to. In a sense, Wilbur’s character provides the mediating tool allowing both Charlotte and Templeton to act to his benefit but Wilbur is not the agent of the to/for. He merely waits, anticipates what is to come. He prays without prayer while he lives his life within the boundary of (not)knowing. In a very real sense, Wilbur is us!

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Seed Newsvine

I sat through an active presentation by Steven Turner in which he asked whether teaching for achievement or teaching for understanding is appropriate in public schools. In the current climate many of the participants at this session agreed that teaching for achievement as an isolated concept equates to teaching skills appropriate for testing with little or no evidence of transferability or sustainability. We also tended to agree that teaching for understanding led to students developing critical thinking, reflection, rigorous sense of internalization of knowledge. One participant argued that teaching for achievement meant teaching to a predetermined, external set of standards while teaching for understanding had no predetermined borders but is broadly focused on relevant issues and knowledge. What also developed from this discussion was a consensus that if one teaches for understanding this does not negate the need to teach the necessary skills required for particular understanding. The two are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the great irony is that when children are taught with understanding as the goal of the process test scores rise in a direct relationship to student engagement. If, however, children are taught only for achievement their test scores are erratic and, perhaps more importantly, students become resistant to school and schooling. Turner’s work is worthy of a second look and some follow-up studies as well.

In a second session, Steven J. Thornton and Keith C. Barton presented a paper entitled Why history education is impossible without social studies. This work suggests that teaching history as a separate academic discipline is impossible without relating the history being taught to the other social studies, areas of study that include economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography and the like. I was drawn to the session not only because of Thornton’s work, but by the title of their paper. I have been thinking about how to effectively link the social studies to teaching history as many social studies educators are doing but I simply assumed that history serves as the underlying foundation for the rest of the social studies. Thornton and Barton suggest a different relationship, one that understands history as the factual exemplar for the theoretical concepts endemic to the rest of the social studies. An example they gave is the American Revolution. One cannot understand the revolution without understanding the concept from political science of representation or the concept from economics of taxation. While a gross oversimplification, the point they are making is that political science and economics provide us with theoretical constructions while the narrative of the revolution transforms those abstractions into narrative reality. History, in this sense, is the exemplar that provides students with concrete examples of weighty though abstract concepts. I really liked this take on the problem raised.

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Seed Newsvine

This week the American Educational Research Association is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. This important conference brings together researchers and teachers from all areas of the spectrum of education and, as such, is one of the more exciting places to be as a professional educator. In this post I am going to summarize some of the more important points I heard today.

David Berliner spoke about the state of education in the United States today as a political space in which the ENDS of education have been taken away from professional educators and the MEANS of education have been corrupted by the reduction of knowing to a single test-score number. As test scores become the ENDS of education, primarily due to NCLB, then the MEANS of education become teaching to the test. When knowledge as an END is replaced by test scores then the only thing worth knowing is “is that going to be on the test?”

Another speaker argued that there is simply too much policy, policy layered upon policy upon policy. Fossilized reforms are something like geological layers as legislators fail to review either old policy prior to passage of new policy or evidence in support of policy legislation in the first place. The result is a web (more like a rabbit warren) of overlapping policies and legislation that boggles even the least capable minds.

Perhaps my favorite speaker argued that we do not live in an age of educational uncertainty. Quite the contrary, NCLB has placed a strangle hold on certainty. Schools are certain as to what programs count and what to teach in order to avoid the degradation of being labeled low performing. The problem is not certainty but faulty logic. NCLB is based on a confused logical structure where knowledge is reduced to test scores, schools are expected to solve social problems, and reading and math instruction are scripted and uniform across irregular contexts. This speaker called not for evidence based teaching as NCLB does, rather he argued that there ought to be EVIDENCE BASED LEGISLATION. I suggested to a colleague sitting next to me that perhaps those that pass the laws ought to be subject to the consequences of their own legislation. Congress ought to be forced to sit for say the 12th grade test. It was also suggested that no legislation be passed that does harm to anyone.

Finally, a speaker argued that education cannot be reduced to a model that corresponds in any way to producing widgets in a factory. By that logic FedX Delivers–Teachers Teach holds supreme. The fact is, however, that teachers do not exist, only teachers in a context exist and only in that context can teachers navigate through the murky waters that make up the classroom. Teaching is not something that can be planned except in broad brush terms if only because the unexpected is bound to happen at any moment of the day. Teachers are not tutor technicians preparing their students for tests. In the end, high stakes testing is blocking effective implementation of curriculum that encourages students to solve problems, to think about difficult problems, to rigorously reflect on ideas and concepts, and to remain curious about the world in which we all live. American educators for years have been critical of the centralization of European and Asian educational systems. The irony is that Europe and Asian nations are becoming decentralized as the United States moves toward a centralized national system of education.

I expect to be NCLB’d out by the end of the week. More to come later.

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From Time.com

The first three months of the new Democratic Congress have been neither terrible nor transcendent. A Pew poll had it about right: a substantial majority of the public remains happy the Democrats won in 2006, but neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid has dominated the public consciousness as Newt Gingrich did when the Republicans came to power in 1995. There is a reason for that. A much bigger story is unfolding: the epic collapse of the Bush Administration.

The three big Bush stories of 2007–the decision to “surge” in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons–precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).

I want to comment on the arrogance, incompetence, and cynicism of the Bush administration from a slightly different point of view. While Time focuses arrogance on the Bush insistence on the surge strategy, incompetence on the Walter Reed scandal, and cynicism on the Gonzalez flap over the sacking of US Prosecutors, I want to suggest that all three attributes are contained within the Bush policy on education.

Bush and his appointees at the Department of Education (both Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings) are all three–arrogant, incompetent, and cynical–all rolled up into one neat package. At the core of the issue is the impact on the next generation of Americans.

I begin with arrogance. The Bush administration marches forward with the zeal of reform that is (and never could be) bothered by the facts. I suggest that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is fatally flawed because of the arrogance of the policy. For example, it is statistically impossible to have all children reading at grade level simply because grade level is an expression of the mean, the arithmetic average, for any given assessment. To obtain a mean score means that there must be at least half of the tested population performing below the mean score. It is arrogant to suggest that test scores can be improved so that all children perform above a mean score. Of course, it is very appealing to the uninitiated.

Incompetence at the DoED is most apparent in the case of incentives offered by student loan companies in order to be placed on a college or university’s “preferred” lender list. Examples cited in the New York Times article included an all-expense paid trip to the Caribbean for university officials and their spouses, gifts such as iPods, and bonuses that are based on how much students borrow. Bush’s lack of control over those that work in his administration whether at Walter Reed Hospital or the DoED is striking. This incompetence was tolerated by the Republican Congress that refused to exercise any oversight over the Bush administration.

Finally, the Bush policy on education is cynical at its core. The failure to pay attention to critical research done by respected members of the field, while arrogant to be sure, demonstrates a degree of cynicism in that the leadership is focused only on their ideas and will push them, right or wrong, to the end. If, by cynical we mean believing the worst of human nature and motives; having a sneering disbelief in the actions and thoughts of others, then this failure to address issues raised by others critical of the administration head on is a fine example of cynicism.

The problem with the Bush education policy is that it relegates an entire generation of American children to second-rate experiences in the classroom. The Bush policies destroy curiosity, the desire to know school based knowledge. This is not to suggest that children do not learn things. Just that what they learn comes from outside the schoolhouse. So much research points to the dangerous effects of NCLB and the Bush policies on education, but there he is giving his marching orders to Secretary Spellings to oversee the reauthorization of this flawed act. Arrogance, incompetence, and cynicism all rolled up into a single package…654 more days to go for this, the worst president this country has ever had.

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The issue is important enough to simply present FAIR TEST’s plea for action on the part of all concerned citizens. So here it is. PLEASE TAKE ACTION on this one. Save the children, save the entire next generation from a life of basic skills ignorance.

The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies are trying to push through fast-track renewal of the fundamentally flawed “No Child Left Behind” law without the public debate it requires. Now is the time for assessment reformers like you to act. Contact your U.S. Senators and Representative today. Tell them NCLB should not be reauthorized unless all these issues are addressed. Ask them to contact the Education Committee and press for adoption of the reforms listed here.

End arbitrary and unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) requirements used to punish schools not on track to having all students score “proficient” by 2014. AYP should be replaced by expectations based on real-world rates of improved student achievement. Academic progress should be measured by multiple sources of evidence, not just standardized test scores.

Reduce excessive top-down testing mandates. The requirement that states assess each student every year in grades three through eight (and once in high school) should be reduced to once each in elementary, middle and high school. Over-testing takes time away from real teaching and learning.

Remove counter-productive sanctions. Escalating punitive consequences, which lack evidence of success, should be eliminated. These include requirements to spend money on school transfers and tutoring, as well as provisions calling for the replacement of teachers or privatizing control over schools.

Replace NCLB’s test-and-punish approach with support for improving educational quality. This includes holding schools accountable for making systemic changes through locally controlled professional development and family involvement programs. Federal funding should be more than doubled so that all eligible children receive support.

The thrust of this approach is outlined in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB with details in Redefining Accountability: Improving Student Learning by Building Capacity. http://www.fairtest.org/FEA_Home.html.

Members of Congress are in their home districts during the first half of April. Take advantage of this opportunity to make your views heard. Personal calls, letters, faxes and visits are much more effective than email. Addresses and phone numbers are available at http://www.house.gov and http://www.senate.gov.

Please take action today. The U.S. will continue to leave many children behind unless your voice is heard.

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FEA Website

FairTest’s FEA Page

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Study Says Tools Don’t Raise Scores
This report from the Washingtonpost.com

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate for ways to meet the testing mandates of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

Oh my, another chink in the armor of NCLB. I am not surprised. Technology is worthy of many things–a teacher it is not! Without technology this blog would not be possible, critical exploration of deep space, research into drug development, and so much more would simply not be possible. But, sitting a child in front of a computer to do drill and kill is no different than handing the same child a worksheet. It numbs the brain. It kills curiosity.

Not too very long ago my then 6 year old grandson was visiting me from his home in Phoenix. Because he was missing a couple of days of school, his 1st grade teacher supplied him with multiple worksheet assignments. He balked at doing this homework. When I asked him why he said, “Poppa, it is really stupid work. I know how to do it all so it is just a waste of my time–time I could be spending with you and grandma.” Aside from the fact that he will grow up to be a diplomat, his analysis was right on. In fact, it was a waste of his time. If a 6-year-old child knows this and can articulate his knowing this well something tells me the DOE did not have to pay for an expensive study.

We have known for some time that drill and skill worksheets don’t work at any age for any topic. What does work is to engage children as curious, inquiring learners. It is a grand Deweyan myth but he could have said this, “If you want kids to learn about volume and container size, send them out to the sandbox with different size buckets and have them play in the sand. Then come back to the classroom and discuss what they did in the sandbox.” Learning through experience works. It engages kids in ways that involve their natural curiosity so that what is learned is retained. Beating them over the head with drivel simply gets lost as the children get lost in the process.

But NCLB pushes notions of basic skills for reading and math. Curiously, nothing is ever said about what one does with the skills acquired. What are the real world applications of having a set of skills that one has not been able to internalize because they hold no interest.

If technology is to be effective as a classroom tool then it must be seen as interactive, messy, and authentic. Not some pre-programmed worksheet model that crushes children in the process.

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BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Tests ‘stopping children playing’

Five-year-olds are being prevented from engaging in traditional play as they are under too much pressure from the national tests, teachers have warned.

With lessons geared towards assessment, children are bored from the moment they begin formal schooling, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned.

What is this world coming to? British kids at 5-years of age are already bored with school from the moment they begin formal education. The sad fact is that school policy in Britain and the United States violate the most important maxim of teaching: TO DO NO HARM TO CHILDREN!

Children need to play, need to get their hands dirty, need to explore the world they live in on their terms with guidance from adults that are well educated and understand the relationship of play to learning. To metaphorically strap children to their seats at age 5 is to literally beat curiosity out of them, to make them passive and, in doing so, dull their minds so that an entire generation of children will be lost to intellectual pursuits. This is an egregious breech of faith with younger people, a retreat from adult responsibility to educate our children to be productive citizens of the world. To bore and not to challenge is frightening; a reminder of Orwell’s conception of his future from the point of view of the 1950’s when he wrote 1984. The world, in Orwell’s terms was turned on its head–Peace is War, Love is Hate and so on–so that life no longer made sense.

What will happen to these 5-year-old children as they reach adulthood in a mere 13 years? Will they be so deprived of curiosity, of the ability to think for themselves, of the ability to form responsible opinions, that they will understand the world in Orwellian terms? It is a truly upside down world we inhabit today.

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Study gives teachers barely passing grade in classroom


The findings, published today in the weekly magazine Science, take teachers to task for spending too much time on basic reading and math skills and not enough on problem-solving, reasoning, science and social studies. They also suggest that U.S. education focuses too much on teacher qualifications and not enough on teachers being engaging and supportive. (emphasis added)

Why would such a conclusion surprise anyone? Given the constraints of NCLB and the emphasis on basic skills as the fundamental outcome of the entire process of education, is it any wonder that teachers spend far too much time on basic reading and math skills and not enough time on the stuff that actually matters to educated people? I am not surprised at all. What I am scandalized about, however, is that the research team led by Robert Pianta of the University of Virginia doesn’t address the core of the problem–NCLB as bad school policy. Rather, the research team lead by Pianta choose to engage in teacher bashing because teachers are an easy target. Better the National Institutes of Health, the funders of the study, should look at the underlying cause for schools reducing curriculum to only the basic skills that are tested. But, why kid myself. The NIH is a federal agency under the ultimate control of the Bush Administration; heaven only knows this group couldn’t stand for NCLB to look bad. Denial, Mr. President, ain’t just a river in Africa. Time to come out of the shadows and into the light and see that the emperor really has no clothes.

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This post recently appeared on the National Education Association’s web site. It is worth a close look.

NCLB AYP: Fail Now or Fail Later
Study Predicts Most Great Lakes Schools Will Be ‘Failing’ by 2014

Most schools in the Great Lakes region will labeled “failing” by 2014,
according to a study released by the Great Lakes Center for
Educational Research and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

“The Impact of the Adequate Yearly Progress Requirement of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act on the Great Lakes Region,” (PDF, 551KB, 70 pages) is
the first multi-state research to use actual state data to predict how
schools will fare under the No Child Left Behind law’s current Adequate
Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements.

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Slavoj Žižek (2002) writes, “The problem with the twentieth-century ‘passion for the Real’ was not that was a passion for the Real, but that it was a fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.  Žižek is, in part, referring to notions of tensions between universals and particulars that often are distinguished through the use of coded language. 

This is especially true as the debate surrounding No Child Left Behind begins to take on steam.  Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings (2007), writes, “The No Child Left Behind Act has evolved from idea to law to a way of life. It’s the foundation upon which we must build, and the time to act is now.”  Spellings, by her argument that NCLB has evolved into a “way of life” codes NCLB as the Real yet she ultimately fails to confront the Real in the sense that she fails to respond to the critics of NCLB. 

In the same document Spellings goes on to point out how to build on the stunning accomplishments already achieved under NCLB.  She writes that we must now:

  • Strengthen efforts to close the achievement gap through high standards, accountability, and more options for parents.
  • Give states flexibility to better measure individual student progress, target resources to students most in need, and improve assessments for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
  • Prepare high school students for success by promoting rigorous and advanced coursework and providing new resources for schools serving low-income students.
  • Provide greater resources for teachers to further close the achievement gap through improved math and science instruction, intensive aid for struggling students, continuation of Reading First, and rewards for great progress in challenging environments.
  • Offer additional tools to help local educators turn around chronically underperforming schools and empower parents with information and options.

But wait, I am confused.  Each of the points Spellings makes is formulated in the negative and often oppositionally.  She speaks of “achievement gaps” and “high standards” in the same breath.  She wants to target individual students in order to develop universal achievement among the disabled and limited English speaking students.  She wants more rigorous and advanced high school coursework seemingly by providing new resources for low-income schools (where the “achievement gap” is the greatest).  She wants to provide more resources for teachers to close (oh my, here it is again) the “achievement gap” along side intensive aid for struggling students.  And finally, not to be outdone, she wants to help local educators turn around local “chronically underperforming schools” presumably by informing parents and giving parents greater options for their children.  So how is any of this different from the Real of the current iteration of NCLB? 

Spellings vigorously, but not rigorously, condemns schools, schooling, teaching and learning using language that alludes to underperforming schools, achievement gaps, and creating challenging contexts for learning.  Her claim is designed to spark disgust in the minds of those whose children “perform” at appropriate levels.  The problem here is that what is appropriate is and remains unclear.  The language used by Spellings is a language of blame, of pointing fingers at the victim which has a two-fold effect.  It removes blame from the dominant majority.  It is not their fault that some students underachieve.  Perhaps it is their low-income status, their disabilities, or their failure to master the English language.  Secondly, it fails to address the underlying social problems that lead to poverty, to alienation, and to resistance in school of working class and welfare class students.  But, gosh, most of us are off the hook.  Rhetoric alone will never fix the problem.

NCLB is something like coffee without caffeine, a simulacrum of the Real without the malignancy (Žižek, 2002, 2003).  NCLB is the perfect stratagem for the avoidance of confronting the Real.

References 

Spellings, M. (2007). Building On Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act. Retrieved March 27, 2007, from http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/nclb/factsheets/blueprint.html

Žižek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real. London, UK: Verso.

Žižek, S. (2003). The puppet and the dwarf: The perverse core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Educating Alice posted a story regarding the Holocaust and Shoelaces. This story is important enough to read in its entirety.

I want to add my 2 cents here. I agree that we must teach kids to think about hard topics in a rigorous manner. Collecting 6,000,000 centimeters of shoelaces tied together is symbolic drivel, an act not worthy of serious consideration, except that it interferes with children thinking hard about the whole issue of the Holocaust.

I am currently reading a very short (66 pages) book by Robert Eaglestone, Postmodernism and Holocaust Denial. Cambridge, UK. Icon Books (2001). Eaglestone makes a thoughtful argument in which he distinguishes between the modern, liberal discourse that, through fear of political incorrectness, continences free speech to the extreme and a postmodern view that insists on rigorous attention to the ethical value of the argument itself. The modern view allows for debate where there is no debate. It makes room for Holocaust denial because free speech requires that both sides be heard–even when there is no other side. The postmodern view, however, requires one to address the underlying ethics of the argument leaving little room for sweeping events under the rug as if they did not occur.

Collecting shoelaces is much like Holocaust denial because it trivializes the reality of the event. It is something like creating a virtual reality, like decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer, allowing for an experience without the malignancy of the event itself.


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