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Education Week reported on June 8th:

House Democrats want to put their own stamp on federal education spending by increasing Title I and other programs they favor and slashing Reading First and other priorities set by President Bush.

In the $56 billion fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Education unveiled by the Democrats, No Child Left Behind Act programs would receive a $2 billion increase, with the Title I program for disadvantaged students receiving $1.5 billion of that.

But the $1.03 billion Reading First program—which the Bush administration points to as one of its biggest accomplishments under the NCLB law—would take a cut of $630 million, or 61 percent. What’s more, the administration’s latest proposals for private school vouchers and new mathematics programs would not be funded at all.

“This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on,” said Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Reports by the Department of Education’s inspector general and congressional investigators have outlined management and ethical questions involving the program.

Republicans voiced no objections to the Reading First cuts or other spending levels during the June 7 session of the appropriations panel’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The subcommittee approved the Democratic plan in a unanimous voice vote.

“If I were chairman,” said Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., the subcommittee’s senior Republican, “I don’t know that I would have made the bill a whole lot different.”

This should come as no surprise given the recent questions about how the DoED administered the Reading First program. Surrounded by questions of improper ethics and outright fraud when it came to forcing DIBLES on school districts large and small, draining much needed funds away from the classroom, the bipartisan support of this spending cut makes a great deal of sense.

The DoED, like other embattled Bush administration departments, is keeping a stiff upper lip claiming no ethical violations and that the Democrats are undermining the ability of the urban poor to learn. What they forget is that this legislation will most likely leave the committee with full bipartisan support. Republicans as well as Democrats have simply had enough of this scandal ridden White House. Of course, it is easy to take a stand when those directly effected by that stand are not voters.

Where is this kind of bipartisanship when it comes to the blatantly political Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales? But that is for another post…

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Alleged conflict of interest charges now swarm around the DoED’s sponsorship and use of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). DIBELS serves as the flagship assessment instrument for the billion dollar a year Reading First program administered by the DoED.In addition to significant charges of not properly screening consultants, many of whom had financial ties to DIBLES, the DoED appears to have promoted the use of DIBELS over any other early literacy indicator.

Furthermore, DIBELS does not appear to be a good indicator of whether or not children understand what they read. DIBELS also tends to be biased in favor of children that come from literacy-rich environments according to Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Erickson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development.

One study found:

That DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency scores did predict performance on the TerraNova, a standardized achievement test, although students’ performance on DIBELS accounted for less than 20 percent of the variability in those scores. The study also found that students scored poorly on their ability to retell stories they had read, suggesting the tests may be sending a message that reading rapidly is more important than reading for comprehension.

So it seems than not only is there a significant scandal brewing surrounding the use and implementation of the DIBELS instrument, it also seems that the administration that insists on research based teaching and learning eschews research when it comes to promoting their pals and their profits. The emperor has no clothes.

clipped from www.edweek.org
Although teachers in the Moriarty, N.M., public schools report positive experiences with the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, the assessments have generated a lot of controversy nationally.
The assessment tool, developed by researchers at the University of Oregon, is now approved for use under the federal Reading First program in 45 states to monitor student progress on reading fluency and other measures.
But a contentious hearing before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee probed allegations that the widespread use of DIBELS may stem, in part, from inappropriate promotion of the tests by federal officials as part of the rollout of the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program.
A report by the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general, released in March, suggested that a federal contractor did not appropriately screen consultants, some of whom had financial ties to DIBELS, for conflicts of interest.

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David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, both well respected educational researchers, claim that NCLB is causing substantial harm to children, to schools, to teachers and to administrators of those schools that has the chilling effect of placing the Nation at Risk.

Limiting their remarks to only the high-stakes testing requirements of NCLB, Berliner and Nichols said:

The stakes are high when students’ standardized-test performance results in grade retention or failure to graduate from high school. The stakes are high when teachers and administrators can lose their jobs or, conversely, receive large bonuses for student scores, or when humiliation or praise for teachers and schools occurs in the press as a result of test scores. This federal law requires such high-stakes testing in all states.

More than 30 years ago, the eminent social scientist Donald T. Campbell warned about the perils of measuring effectiveness via a single, highly consequential indicator: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking,” he said, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” High-stakes testing is exactly the kind of process Campbell worried about, since important judgments about student, teacher, and school effectiveness often are based on a single test score. This exaggerated reliance on scores for making judgments creates conditions that promote corruption and distortion. In fact, the overvaluation of this single indicator of school success often compromises the validity of the test scores themselves. Thus, the scores we end up praising and condemning in the press and our legislatures are actually untrustworthy, perhaps even worthless.

Campbell’s law is ubiquitous, and shows up in many human endeavors. Businesses, for example, regularly become corrupt as particular indicators are deemed important in judging success or failure. If stock prices are the indicator of a company’s success, for example, then companies like Enron, Qwest, Adelphia, and WorldCom manipulate that indicator to make sure they look good. Lives and companies are destroyed as a result. That particular indicator of business success became untrustworthy as both it and the people who worked with it were corrupted.

Similarly, when the number of criminal cases closed is the indicator chosen to judge the success of a police department, two things generally happen: More trials are brought against people who may be innocent or, with a promise of lighter sentences, deals are made with accused criminals to get them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

When the indicators of success and failure in a profession take on too much value, they invariably are corrupted. Those of us in the academic world know that when researchers are judged primarily by their publication records, they have occasionally fabricated or manipulated data. This is just another instance of Campbell’s law in action.

We have documented hundreds of examples of the ways in which high-stakes testing corrupts American education in a new book, Collateral Damage. Using Campbell’s law as a framework, we found examples of administrators and teachers who have cheated on standardized tests. Educators, acting just like other humans do, manipulate the indicators used to judge their success or failure when their reputations, employment, or significant salary bonuses are related to those indicators.

clipped from www.edweek.org
In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush claimed success for the federal No Child Left Behind Act. “Students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap,” he said
But, as with Iraq, a substantial body of evidence challenges his claim.
We believe that this federal law, now in its sixth year, puts American public school students in serious jeopardy. Extensive reviews of empirical and theoretical work, along with conversations with hundreds of educators across the country, have convinced us that if Congress does not act in this session to fundamentally transform the law’s accountability provision, young people and their educators will suffer serious and long-term consequences.
We note in passing that only people who have no contact with children could write legislation demanding that every child reach a high level of performance in three subjects, thereby denying that individual differences exist.

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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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While the DoED is praising the outcomes of Reading First through an internally funded study, the House Education and Labor Committee is investigating potentially criminal behavior at the DoED surrounding Reading First.

Rep. Miller scolded Mr. Doherty at one point.

“Was your mantra, ‘Mistakes were made’?” Rep. Miller said. “You don’t get to override the law because you’re turning the law into a program.”

Mr. Doherty responded: “We thought then, and we think now, we did abide by the law.”

The hearing was the first of two that are expected in Congress in the wake of reports by the Education Department inspector general and the Government Accountability Office that found federal officials had mismanaged the program.

“We found that the department obscured the requirements of the statute by inappropriately including or excluding standards in the application criteria,” Mr. Higgins told the committee.

Ms. Lewis noted that one of the consultants providing assistance during the grant-review process had financial ties to the assessment, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS. Kentucky was asked to revise its Reading First grant proposal three times.

“We were repeatedly advised to replace our current assessment tool with DIBELS,” Ms. Lewis said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the education committee, has introduced legislation that would require the Education Department and its contractors to screen Reading First peer reviewers for potential conflicts of interest, among other provisions.

Rep. McKeon was much less hostile to the witnesses connected to the Reading First program than Mr. Miller and some of the other committee Democrats.

“I want to thank you for your service,” he said. “I’ve been here almost 15 years, and I’ve seen a lot of people get crucified, and I’m really getting sick of it.”

But after hearing some four hours of testimony about alleged missteps and wrongdoing in the implementation of the federal program, Rep. Miller said he would consider making his own request for a criminal investigation.

“I think this process was cooked from the very beginning,” he said.

clipped from www.edweek.org

“We found that the department obscured the requirements of the statute by inappropriately including or excluding standards in the application criteria,” Mr. Higgins told the committee.
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education has referred some of the information gathered in a lengthy audit of the Reading First program to federal law-enforcement officials for further investigation, he said during a lengthy and contentious hearing today before the House Education and Labor Committee.
The former director of the Reading First program denied in the April 20 congressional hearing that there were conflicts of interest in the implementation of the $1 billion-a-year federal initiative. He also denied that he and other officials and consultants had overstepped their authority in directing states and school districts on the curriculum materials and assessments that would meet the strict requirements of the grants awarded under the program.

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So now the testing craze has reached the level of higher education. My goodness, perhaps we should demand a test for those that serve the nation, make them accountable for their performance by reducing that performance to a test score at the end of each and every year they serve in office. I think it should be the same test we ask graduating high school students to take (The SAT or the ACT). If they don’t score in the top quartile then they need to be removed from office and placed in tutored classrooms until they can pass at the arbitrary level set by some external bogyman. How long do you think that would last?But, schools and their clients are powerless. Do what I say or I’ll withhold federal funds! Wow, some choice Margret Spellings offers up to colleges and universities. Comply or else. Some democracy we live in.

clipped from www.ed.gov
Washington, D.C. — To help keep America competitive and provide students and families with more information and more affordable access to higher education, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced her plans to improve the U.S. higher education system, based on the recommendations in the final report of her Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Secretary Spellings made the announcement during remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, Secretary Spellings plans to provide matching funds to colleges, universities and states that collect and publicly report student learning outcomes. She will also convene members of the accrediting community this November to move toward measures that place more emphasis on learning and less on inputs. These proposals will improve higher education’s performance and the ability to measure that performance.

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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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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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Žižek suggests that choice is available only within the boundaries of the overlap of conflicting interests. Only when ideas are in competition is there a need to make a choice. If everyone agrees with each and every premise then there is no need to make a choice. But, it is clear that each of us is faced with significant opportunities to make informed choices because we do not live in the bubble of the same.

In schools, where curriculum is a central issue, there are three competing interests that are often in conflict with one another. There is, of course, the district, the governing body that oversees the delivery of educational efforts to students within the oversight boundaries of the district itself. In the case of the district the goals for curriculum are driven from the top down. Districts, no matter how large or how small, are driven by the need to seek standardization, to centralize the decision making process, and to control, to the best of its ability, the outcomes of the process of teaching and learning. In direct competition with the district, and at the other end of the continuum is the classroom. Classroom teachers spend their day in direct contact with children and are, therefore, far more prone to devote their energies into understanding the context within which they work. Classroom teachers understand the need to decentralize schooling and to approach the classroom with an open and flexible attitude if they are to be successful. Stuck in the middle is the school itself. School administration is, in fact, stuck in the middle, having to contextualize yet retain administrative control. This paradox of leadership leads to understanding curricular continuity and negotiating curriculum design through professional conversations within the school. See fig 1 below.Curriculum Design

NCLB has usurped the possibility of understanding curriculum development as a meaningful conversation by successfully defining the conversation as one that is driven from the top, a conversation that is immune to considerations of context or negotiation. By establishing management parameters the professionalism has been removed from teaching and leadership roles removed from the principal’s office.

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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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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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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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Okay, you just have to visit Educating Alice and read her post Anti-Intellectual Education. As a regular reader of this blog I continue to be impressed with the thought that goes into the writing and the generally correct posture taken. In the final analysis, I am constantly reminded that one goal of education is to do no harm to kids. The other is to cause them such discomfort intellectually that they have no choice but to think, to struggle with ideas and to emerge from their struggle as productive and competent citizens of the world.

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I have attached an important paper the addresses issues of the pressure placed on students by NCLB high stakes testing requirements. Among the findings is that high-stakes testing pressure leads to increased school drop-out rates and that there is no credible evidence that points to increases in NAEP test scores in 4th and 8th graders. It is worth the read in spite of its length.

The time has come to rethink the harm being done to children in United States public schools as a direct result of this administration’s education policy. Based on the “Miracle in Texas,” another failed educational policy, NCLB is destroying a generation of children. Let sanity prevail.

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