A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, February 03, 2012

As Sam Cooke sang, "La da da da da da da- history!"

Yep, knowledge of US history has seldom been demonstrated so poorly by so many, including those who claim to be patriots:

AMERICAN history is in vogue, if not well understood. American revolutionaries are reincarnated as tea-partiers. Pocket editions of the constitution are a must-have accessory for politicians. Last month Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman and tea-party favourite, told Iowans that America’s Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more”. Never mind that this was untrue. It sounded nice.

History teaching is far from the biggest crisis in American education. But it is a problem nevertheless, and a neglected one. A broad effort to create voluntary national standards does not include history. No Child Left Behind, George Bush’s education law, tests pupils on maths, reading and science. On February 14th Barack Obama stressed the importance of teaching science, technology and 21st-century skills. Meanwhile America’s schoolchildren score even more poorly in history than in maths: 64% of high-school seniors scored “basic” on a national maths test in 2009, but only 47% reached that level on the most recent national history test.

One problem, a new report argues, is that states have pathetic standards for what history should be taught. Good standards do not ensure that students will learn history. But they are a crucial guide, according to Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute, a conservative think-tank. A study from Fordham, published on February 16th, grades each state for the quality of its history standards. Twenty-eight states received a “D” or an “F”.

Many states emphasise abstract concepts rather than history itself. In Delaware, for example, pupils “will not be expected to recall any specific event or person in history”. Other states teach children about early American history only once, when they are 11. Yet other states show scars from the culture wars. A steady, leftward lean has been followed by a violent lurch to the right. Standards for Texas, passed last year, urge pupils to question the separation of church and state and “evaluate efforts by global organisations to undermine US sovereignty through the use of treaties”.

Some states fare better. South Carolina has set impressive standards—for example, urging teachers to explain that colonists did not protest against taxation simply because taxes were too high. Other states, Mr Finn argues, would do well to follow South Carolina’s example. “Twenty-first century skills” may help pupils become better workers; learning history makes them better citizens.

Why is it that many of our nation's educational leaders, including politicians with no education experience, feel that our citizens and future voters do not need to understand our nation's history? Sometimes I get paranoid and wonder if it isn't deliberate. Then that freaks me out.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

The (Mis)adventures of Yo-yo Boy

One of the things the Petty Bureaucrats Who Think They Know All don't get about teaching-- among many, many, many, MANY things!-- is the emotional care and guidance teachers expend upon their students. This part of the student-teacher relationship has very little to do (in an obvious way) about test scores and yet it cannot be ignored.

One of my students is Yo-yo Boy. Yo-yo Boy's dad and mom are not in the picture, but YYB does have a cousin and her husband. YYB has some issues: he will lie absolutely to your face, he will steal anything not nailed down, he has a trillion excuses and a healthy self-pitying martyr complex for any failures on his part, he is absolutely mesmerized by the presence of female persons without having the minutest idea of how to appropriately interact with them. Worse, he is a victim of the rankest social promotion on the part of a neighboring school district that I have ever seen-- to the extent that he was (non)functionally illiterate when we first got him in our high school. Yo-yo Boy has bounced around from home to home, school to school, suspension to suspension.

It is my happy duty to teach this young fella. It is also my happy duty to impart the following wisdom, in the order in which it occurred:
1) Ms. Cornelius does NOT want to know the color of your underwear, and neither does anyone else.
2) Grabbing the derriere of a young lady you do not know does NOT enamor her of you and will indeed get you suspended.
3) The secret to passing a class is to... get this!-- do the assignments, study for tests and quizzes, and pay attention in class.
4) The preliminary secret to #3 is to bring a pencil, your assignments, and a book to class every day. Without fail.
5) Dudes do not carry purses in our neck of the woods, so having one in your possession will cause you to get jugged for stealing.
6) Do not mouth off to the people providing you with shelter or fight with their own children, or you will get thrown out of the house, even if they love you.
7) You are not a bad enough mamma- jamma to make it on the streets for even five seconds, so pay attention to #6.
8) You will get fired from your job if you do not show up on time, so yes, Ms. Cornelius counts tardies. Plus, you do not be engaging in #2 or #5 so that you then violate #8.
9) Ms. Cornelius will cross-check every single thing you tell her, so don't even bother to lie.
10) If you do not understand, ask.

Sadly, Yo-yo Boy violated #6 one too many times. I do not know if I will see him again.

Or he could turn up tomorrow.

That's just part of the teaching life in a real public school, where testing is sometimes the least measure of our worth.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheating the students

So of course the Atlanta cheating scandal keeps unfolding. So far four employees in Atlanta have lost their jobs. Bunches more have been told to quit or be fired, as 178 received letters to this effect from the current superintendent. Eighty-two teachers and principals have admitted that they erased answers and altered answer sheets.

Look, the superintendent was seen as a miracle worker and won National Superintendent of the Year. The gains that Atlanta reported during the TEN YEARS it is presumed that cheating has gone on (basically since the start of No Child Left Behind) were astounding, and yet no one really dug into it until now? Please.

What really disgusts me is that you know that cheating has gone on in other places but so far, I have only heard about Chicago, Atlanta, and DC. And I love that Arne Duncan is shocked! SHOCKED! by the whole idea that high-stakes testing will lead to cheating.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Idiocy from the Education Dept. Bureaucracy vs. a principal who did everything she could

Oooooh, this makes my blood boil. Read the whole thing-- it's worth it.

From the New York Times:
BURLINGTON, Vt. — It’s hard to find anyone here who believes that Joyce Irvine should have been removed as principal of Wheeler Elementary School.

John Mudasigana, one of many recent African refugees whose children attend the high-poverty school, says he is grateful for how Ms. Irvine and her teachers have helped his five children. “Everything is so good about the school,” he said, before taking his daughter Evangeline, 11, into the school’s dental clinic.

Ms. Irvine’s most recent job evaluation began, “Joyce has successfully completed a phenomenal year.” Jeanne Collins, Burlington’s school superintendent, calls Ms. Irvine “a leader among her colleagues” and “a very good principal.”

Beth Evans, a Wheeler teacher, said, “Joyce has done a great job,” and United States Senator Bernie Sanders noted all the enrichment programs, including summer school, that Ms. Irvine had added since becoming principal six years ago.

“She should not have been removed,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview. “I’ve walked that school with her — she seemed to know the name and life history of every child.”

Ms. Irvine wasn’t removed by anyone who had seen her work (often 80-hour weeks) at a school where 37 of 39 fifth graders were either refugees or special-ed children and where, much to Mr. Mudasigana’s delight, his daughter Evangeline learned to play the violin.

Ms. Irvine was removed because the Burlington School District wanted to qualify for up to $3 million in federal stimulus money for its dozen schools.

And under the Obama administration rules, for a district to qualify, schools with very low test scores, like Wheeler, must do one of the following: close down; be replaced by a charter (Vermont does not have charters); remove the principal and half the staff; or remove the principal and transform the school.

And since Ms. Irvine had already “worked tirelessly,” as her evaluation said, to “successfully” transform the school last fall to an arts magnet, even she understood her removal was the least disruptive option.

“Joyce Irvine versus millions,” Ms. Irvine said. “You can buy a lot of help for children with that money.”

Burlington faced the difficult choice because performance evaluations for teachers and principals based on test results, as much as on local officials’ judgment, are a hallmark of the two main competitive grant programs the Obama administration developed to spur its initiatives: the stimulus and Race to the Top.

“I was distraught,” said Ms. Irvine, 57, who was removed July 1. “I loved being principal — I put my heart and soul into that school for six years.” Still, she counts herself lucky that the superintendent moved her to an administrative job — even if it will pay considerably less.

“I didn’t want to lose her, she’s too good,” Ms. Collins said, adding that the school’s low scores were the result of a testing system that’s “totally inappropriate” for Wheeler’s children.

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the United States Department of Education, noted that districts don’t have to apply for the grants, that the rules are clear and that federal officials do not remove principals. But Burlington officials say that not applying in such hard times would have shortchanged students.

At the heart of things is whether the testing system under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 can fairly assess schools full of middle-class children, as well as a school like Wheeler, with a 97 percent poverty rate and large numbers of refugees, many with little previous education.

President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform says that “instead of a single snapshot, we will recognize progress and growth.” Ms. Collins says if a year’s progress for each student were the standard, Wheeler would score well. However, the reality is that measuring every student’s yearly growth statewide is complex, and virtually all states, including Vermont, rely on a school’s annual test scores.

Under No Child rules, a student arriving one day before the state math test must take it. Burlington is a major resettlement area, and one recent September, 28 new students — from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan — arrived at Wheeler and took the math test in October.

Ms. Irvine said that in a room she monitored, 15 of 18 randomly filled in test bubbles. The math tests are word problems. A sample fourth-grade question: “Use Xs to draw an array for the sum of 4+4+4.” Five percent of Wheeler’s refugee students scored proficient in math.

About half the 230 students are foreign-born, collectively speaking 30 languages. Many have been traumatized; a third see one of the school’s three caseworkers. During Ms. Irvine’s tenure, suspensions were reduced to 7 last year, from 100.

Students take the reading test after one year in the country. Ms. Irvine tells a story about Mr. Mudasigana’s son Oscar and the fifth-grade test.

Oscar needed 20 minutes to read a passage on Neil Armstrong landing his Eagle spacecraft on the moon; it should have taken 5 minutes, she said, but Oscar was determined, reading out loud to himself.

The first question asked whether the passage was fact or fiction. “He said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Irvine, man don’t go on the moon, man don’t go on the back of eagles, this is not true,’ ” she recalled. “So he got the five follow-up questions wrong — penalized for a lack of experience.”

Thirteen percent of foreign-born students, 4 percent of special-ed students and 23 percent of the entire school scored proficient in reading.

Before Mr. Obama became president, Burlington officials began working to transform Wheeler to an arts magnet, in hopes of improving socioeconomic integration.

While doing her regular job, Ms. Irvine also developed a new arts curriculum. She got a grant for a staff trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington for arts training. She rented vans so teachers could visit arts magnets in nearby states. She created partnerships with local theater groups and artists. In English class, to learn characterization, children now write a one-person play and perform it at Burlington’s Very Merry Theater.

A sign of her effectiveness: an influx of new students, so that half the early grades will consist of middle-class pupils this fall.

Ms. Irvine predicts that in two years, when these new “magnet” students are old enough to take the state tests, scores will jump, not because the school is necessarily better, but because the tests are geared to the middle class.

Senator Sanders said that while the staff should be lauded for working at one of Vermont’s most challenging schools, it has been stigmatized.

“I applaud the Obama people for paying attention to low-income kids and caring,” said Mr. Sanders, a leftist independent. “But to label the school as failing and humiliate the principal and teachers is grossly unfair.”

The district has replaced Ms. Irvine with an interim principal and will conduct a search for a replacement.

And Ms. Irvine, who hoped to finish her career on the front lines, working with children, will be Burlington’s new school improvement administrator.

“Her students made so much progress,” Ms. Collins said. “What’s happened to her is not at all connected to reality.”

The story about the immigrant child and the passage about Neil Armstrong reminded me of that film The Gods Must Be Crazy. And the gods at the Education Department (many of whom have spent zero time in a classroom themselves) must be crazy to think that Bush administration policies that require new immigrants to be proficient in reading within a year should continue to be inflicted upon American students and public schools.

Throughout history our schools have been at the front lines of assimilating the children of immigrants to American culture. Most history books point to these successes when discussing the great waves of immigration that have swept over the United States since its inception. Yet how might that success have been viewed if test scores were the sole determination?

We teachers know our students as individuals. But schools with low student test scores are all lumped into a single category of failure regardless of the circumstances.

Where's some of that change you promised, President Obama?

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Federal support for education: Watch those strings

It's always good to remind people that the federal government actually contributes very little financial support to public school districts throughout the country.

Here is the link to an Associated Press article that explains the details. Basically, federal monies provide only about 8 percent of a school district's budget. School districts need to consider whether this is a good bargain for them, since that 8 percent leads to all kinds of requirements and regulations that actually may not be value for the money.

Traditionally, schools have been funded by local taxes-- usually property taxes as the bulk of the sourcing. Even with the proposed increase in funding that has been recently promised, that may not make up for all the other requirements that will inevitably be tied to those dollars.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

And, furthermore, there's this:

Speaking of unethical people....
A suburban Atlanta principal who resigned during an investigation into cheating on students' standardized tests was arrested Friday and accused of altering public documents. The school's assistant principal also turned herself in to local police Thursday night in a case that the head of a state teacher's group described as rare. School officials allege that the two changed answers on fifth-grade standardized tests to improve scores and help their school meet federal achievement standards. Former Dekalb County principal James Berry was arrested at his home on charges of altering public documents, a felony. His assistant principal Doretha Alexander faces the same charges.

Berry, the former principal of Atherton Elementary, left the county jail Friday evening without commenting to reporters gathered outside. A jail official said his bond was $15,000. Alexander was released earlier Friday on $1,500 bond.

A state investigation released last week found that student scores on state math tests were altered at four schools in the state, including Atherton, in an effort to boost those schools' performance. Officials do not believe students were involved. Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said this is the first time he's heard of teachers or administrators being arrested for such offenses.

"This is one of the worst academic offenses an educator can do or be accused of because it messes with a child's future," Hubbard said.

An administrative probe into the matter by DeKalb County Schools revealed that Berry was involved in altering the tests, said district spokesman Dale Davis. He said the district is still investigating Alexander, who has been reassigned. Davis released a statement Friday saying the school district was surprised at the arrests and had not been notified beforehand. It was not immediately clear whether Berry or Alexander had a lawyer. DeKalb County Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Geary said he expects the investigation to be turned over to his office in the next few days so a decision can be made on formal charges. Berry resigned last week, while Alexander was reassigned by district officials. Messages left at each of their homes Friday were not immediately returned.

The arrests follow a state audit that "showed very clearly that someone had intentionally changed students' answers on those tests," said Kathleen Mathers, spokeswoman of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. The resulting higher scores helped four schools meet standards and avoid sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Schools that don't meet standards under the law must offer extra tutoring and allow parents to transfer their children to higher performing schools. The audit found the answer sheets of the altered tests had up to 40 erasures, compared with the average of two per student on other answer sheets. Most of the answers were changed to make them correct.

Tests from schools in three other systems are also under review.

Nice. Although this isn't the first time we have heard of instances like this, it IS the first time I heard of people being arrested.

Well, I'm sure it's all just a "mistake," or "misunderstanding" (sarcasm alert for those who didn't read my previous post). Who wants to bet that those terms will crop up somewhere in relation to this incident?

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

If words were horses, then students would read.

The Reading First program apparently has negligible effects upon improving reading scores-- or should we say reading ability? Because there is a difference-- of elementary students:
The $6 billion reading program at the center of President Bush's signature education law has failed to make a difference in how well children understand what they read, according to a study by the program's own champion — the U.S. Department of Education.

The program, Reading First, was designed to help boost student performance in low-income elementary schools, but failed to improve reading comprehension, says the study from the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the Education Department.

There was no difference in comprehension scores between students who participated in Reading First and those who did not, the study found.

The findings released Thursday threw the program's future into doubt.

"We need to seriously re-examine this program and figure out how to make it work better for students," said California Democratic Rep. George Miller, chair of the House education committee.

Reading First was created as part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which aims to get all children doing math and reading at their proper grade level. President Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings have championed the reading program as an important part of the law.

Institute director Russ Whitehurst said the study focused on reading comprehension rather than other aspects of reading such as whether kids grasp phonics, because comprehension is the ultimate goal when teaching reading.

The study did find Reading First led to more time being spent by teachers on the various aspects of reading judged to be important by a federal reading panel.

The study also found that among schools participating in Reading First, higher levels of funding led to some improvement in scores.

Congress recently cut funding to the program — over Bush's objections — due to budget constraints and controversies surrounding it.

"It's no surprise that Reading First has been a failure," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who led the fight to cut the program's budget following reports about management problems and potential conflicts of interest in the program.

Spellings hailed the program as a success last year when she released data showing scores in Reading First schools were up. However, those scores weren't compared with schools where Reading First wasn't in place. The new study compares those using the program to those not using it.

So, while elementary school students appear to be improving in reading across the board, there's no difference in the gains being made by students participating in Reading First and those who are not, according to the study.

Amanda Farris, deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic initiatives at the Education Department, said Reading First remains popular.

"Secretary Spellings has traveled to 20 states since January. One of the consistent messages she hears from educators, principals and state administrators is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress for slashing Reading First funds," she said in a statement Thursday.

Jim Herman, Tennessee's Reading First director, said he thinks the program works. He said one potential flaw with the latest study is that it doesn't measure the degree to which schools not receiving Reading First money may be using Reading First practices.

He noted that Memphis was studied as part of the new report, and he said it was in a district where Reading First methods were used in schools not getting Reading First money.

This isn't the first time supporters of the program have been dealt bad news.

Congressional investigators and Education Department Inspector General John Higgins previously found that federal officials and contractors didn't adequately address potential conflicts of interest. For example, federal contractors that gave states advice on which teaching materials to buy had financial ties to publishers of Reading First materials, according to the investigations.

Higgins also testified to Congress that the department didn't comply with the law when setting up panels that would review grant applications and in establishing criteria for what teaching materials could be used.

Miller said those problems could be behind the findings of the Education Department report.

"Because of the corruption in the Reading First program, districts and schools were steered toward certain reading programs and products that may not have provided the most effective instruction for students," he said.

The new study examining Reading First's impact has itself been the subject of conflict-of-interest questions because a contractor that worked on it was also among those that helped implement the Reading First program.

RMC Research Corp. was the contractor hired by the federal government to help with Reading First at the outset of the program under three contracts worth about $40 million. The contractor was subsequently criticized in an inspector general's report for failing to adequately address conflict-of-interest issues. For example, it did not sufficiently screen subcontractors for relationships with publishers of reading programs, the report said.

RMC also was involved in the study released Thursday, developing ways of measuring what was taught in classrooms and training classroom observers. Critics have said the company was, in effect, involved in judging its own work.

Whitehurst said he didn't think the contractor's involvement in the study resulted in an actual conflict of interest but perhaps created the appearance of one.

"If we had to do it all over again," he said, "we would have avoided the appearance issue."

The report released Thursday was an interim report. The final version is due out by the end of the year.

Having spent many years toiling as a teacher, including being a language arts teacher, there are a few things that I have noticed. First of all, the best readers use a mixture of phonics skills and context skills in reading. Sight reading skills are useful for common words, but readers need to know how to sound out words as well. Successful readers also have a good knowledge of the meaning of roots, suffixes and prefixes so that they may decode new words they encounter rather than either skipping over unfamiliar words or stopping to look them up, an activity that is anathema for most students, even with the power of the internet at their fingertips.

Phonics instruction alone will not improve reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is more than just understanding individual words! Reading is interpretation of ideas as well. Phonics is a vital place to start, but it is not the ONLY thing that goes on in the mind of a good reader.

I have also seen the destruction wreaked upon students during the repeated fads for "whole language" instruction, and the problems include inability to spell even common words such as or, are, there, their, or its, a failure to be able to decode new words or understand words with unusual spellings. Students completely give up when confronted with words from other languages, and -- news flash, people-- most words in English are derived from German, French, Latin, and Greek, with a sprinkling of Arabic, Persian, and Danish thrown in for flavor. This has resulted in students having a smaller functional vocabulary, which-- follow me here-- causes reading to be more difficult and less rewarding.

I personally find reading seriously addictive. My students often ask me where I have learned all the weird stuff I know. They think I'm kidding when I reply, "I READ a LOT." One of my pet peeves when I was a middle school teacher was when I was often presented with this claim:
Based on the paper “Learning and Teaching Styles” written by Richard M. Felder and Linda K. Silverman in the Journal of Engineering Education, a study carried out by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company found “that students retain 10 percent of what they read, 26 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 70 percent of what they say, and 90 percent of what they say as they do something.”

I can point to an easily verifiable flaw in the above statement: I know from personal experience that husbands remember far less than 70 percent of what they say, much less 90 percent of what they say as they do something. B'doom-CHING!

But seriously, what is the verifiability of this study? What is its reliability? And yet, this thing was passed around as the most sacred of truths for the entire time I taught at the middle school level-- and in my experience, usually by people WHO DO NOT READ THEMSELVES. It's stuff like this that led to the denigration of literacy skills in our schools and our culture in the first place. As someone who reads constantly, and who has friends who read constantly, I dispute these claims with every fiber of my being.

These are the most sweeping of generalizations, and making generalizations a standard of expectation results in expectations being lowered.

If fixing reading problems were easy, there would be no reading problems. The real problem is that we are inundated by a culture that denigrates intellectual gifts and downplays the truth that education is a difficult and arduous process that requires that you do the hardest thing in the world right now-- PAY ATTENTION. It's funny to make fun of people who spend hours with their faces in a book. They're geeks, nerds, dweebs, brains, walking encyclopedias. They're "out of touch." We don't want our leaders to appear too brainy, or we claim that they don't understand the average person.

Deep down, we know that literacy is the foundation of all knowledge. But how do you get people to want to read better when everything screams that reading isn't cool and isn't "fun?" We understand that to get a great jump shot, one has to practice repeatedly and fail repeatedly and still persevere.

But we aren't willing to do the same thing to become more literate.

You have to read to be better at reading. It really doesn't matter how you do it. But programs like Reading First or Whole Language or whatever else will come down the pike will ALL fail since they try to turn the process of reading into a mechanical procedure divorced from utility, entertainment, or fascination.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

What does it mean when the captain grabs the first lifeboat?

You may notice I haven't been my usual, garrulous self the last few months. You may have wondered why.

Our principal is leaving. He started the year more distracted than usual, which made one wonder. He had tried to move up in our own district last year, but nothing doing. It wasn't long into the year before he announced that he was taking an assistant superintendent job in another district.

Once the decision was announced, he was basically treading water. To be honest, I understand this. When I had my first job, which was NOT a happy experience (to put it mildly), I remember how relieved I was when I informed them several months before the end of school that I wouldn't be accepting another contract. Each day closer to the end of school was a relief. Nothing annoying seemed to really trouble me nor penetrate very deeply. Of course, that could have been interpreted as not caring. It wasn't that I didn't care about what went on around me; it's just that it wasn't worth getting worked up over. I still cared about the kids and my teaching, but I was able to ignore the bitter or dysfunctional parts of the staff and parents. It almost got to the point that, when these people would speak to me, all I heard was the trombone sound of adults talking in a "Peanuts" TV special. You know what I'm talking about: "Bwah-bwah BWAHbwahbwah!" As my students would say, "I was, like, 'Whatever.'"

And if that wasn't traumatic enough, now we are losing several assistant principals. It's like Eisenhower's domino theory around here, let me tell you. Even Assistant Principal Plea Bargain is leaving, which just goes to show that interviews really can be manipulated, and also shows that there are a few silver linings going on around here, too. But sometimes you prefer the devil you know to the one you don't.

But must it follow that when a principal leaves, the assistants all try to leave, too? Could it be that something has been said or done to panic the other administrators in the building?

Then I looked around, and I noticed that several other principals within the district were leaving, too. Further, one principal in our district tragically passed away from cancer earlier in the year. So there has been, and will be, a lot of turnover around here, and a lot of trauma. Other principals are also looking around, so there may be more.

So here's the question: what's going on here?

Here's the deal: we also have a pretty new superintendent. He is a very nice person, but if I was going to give him a nickname, I would call him "Lt. Commander Data"-- and let's remember that I LOVE Star Trek because I am a geek, so this is a playful little jibe. I understand why he adores data so much, I do: it's a NCLB world. But I LIVE in the NCLB world, I and my colleagues. We know that everything is subjective and nothing is objective when it comes to data. Lt. Commander Data is more like a local chief ruling over his corner of the NCLB world. He's kind of like the King Nebuchanezzar of our world, if you're into Biblical allusions. And apparently, several administrators are declining, politely, but resolutely, to climb into the fire for refusing to worship that golden image of data which is of course an illusion. American public schools are in a Babylonian captivity, and the Promised land always lies right over the next hilltop. The problem is, when you climb what you think is that hilltop, there's always another hilltop that pops up.

Attempts to quantify learning should come with a little warning sticker: "Warning- these results are more artificial than they appear." There is an emphasis on numbers over everything else, and a certain tone-deafness on morale and team-building and other sorts of what are considered trivialities. There are other things besides data to running a school, and a school district. That's my naive little news flash, were I asked my opinion. But the NCLB world does not really encourage the hiring of people persons, after all.

And once again, it may just boil down to experience. A lot of these principals, and indeed our superintendent, spent very few years actually in the classroom before they moved into administration, and they certainly haven't been in classrooms very much since then. Many of them haven't been teachers in the NCLB world, so they have no idea what the impact of various policies have had on the classroom.

So we have many openings in administration right now. This is a situation that makes most of the rest of us pretty damned tense, truthfully, and it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. There is something out-of-joint here. Let's see if someone besides the teachers notice.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bar none, this bar is high

This seems interesting:
The math tests students take under the No Child Left Behind law are harder than the reading exams, a study finds.

States design tests for their students in both subjects in grades three through eight and once in high school.

By 2014, all students are supposed to reach the proficiency mark on those tests, which generally means they are working at their grade level.

What kids have to show they can do to be labeled proficient in math is typically harder in most states than what they have to do to in reading, according to a study released Thursday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education think tank.

The findings come a little more than a week after the federal government reported students have been making much more progress in math than in reading in recent years.

Michael Petrilli, the think tank's vice president for policy, said it makes sense that students' math skills are improving if there are high expectations of them in that subject.

"If the bar is higher, you've got to work a lot harder," he said.

So what makes a test harder? Is it harder because there is less knowledge and understanding? If you live in a school district like mine, you've seen the powers-that-be go through math programs the way Britney goes through rehab.

Personally, I think what makes reading the hardest for many of my students starts with a basic lack of vocabulary, and let's not even talk about how many kids claim that they "just can't spell" to the point that words are unrecognizable. The I watch my honors students pull out calculators to figure out multiples of five, and I despair all over again.

Let's face it, when you have to THINK about simple multiplication facts when you're seventeen, I imagine math tests WOULD seem pretty darn difficult.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

For your clarification...

I usually avoid this, since it is all too easy, but I had to remind you all of the words of our Edjicator in Cheef:

"Childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured."

Got that, childrens?


Friday, August 10, 2007

Another consequence of NCLB: What to do with students from failed schools

When a failing school is shut down, where can the students go? This is a burning question faced by many students across the country, and its made particularly more difficult under NCLB. Students living in an African American suburb in southern Illinois are finding the doors of neighboring districts locked tight against them as their school has closed its doors. The interesting thing is that the antecedents to this story go back to the 1950s. The whole story is interesting, but note the paragraph in boldface in particular. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Georgina Gustin:
Earlier this year, the [Venice, Illinois school] board that ran the city's remaining high school — Lincoln Charter School — voted to close it, citing dwindling enrollment and limited cash. Now, parents have to decide where to send their children before the school year begins.

...Residents in Venice are upset and bitter — and many say those feelings stem from something that happened decades ago and that few even remember.

In the 1950s, when the state set about consolidating its school districts and redrawing district boundaries, the city of Venice was effectively split into two districts.

Children who lived in southern areas of the city stayed in the Venice school system, while children in the northern areas of the city were sent to the adjacent Madison school system.

At the time those boundaries were drawn, much of downstate Illinois was farmland, and today those haphazard boundaries make for some odd district configurations.

In Maryville, for example, there's a subdivision in a former cornfield where the residents of all but one of the streets go to the Collinsville district, while the residents of the remaining street belong to the Edwardsville district.

But in Venice, some residents believe the district was carved up via a political deal designed to distribute black students evenly between Madison and Venice, which were both majority white at the time.

Those boundaries still exist today.

"Madison and Venice are unique in that a portion of the city was cut in half," said Cullen Cullen, assistant superintendent for the Madison County Regional Office of Education. "That was unusual. There are a few examples of that in the state, but even fewer were based on race."

Over the next five decades, school administrators looked the other way as students who lived in the Madison school district in north Venice attended Venice schools and vice versa. Seven years ago, though, the then-Madison district superintendent complained to authorities that Venice was taking students who belonged in Madison and claiming them as their own. A state audit later showed that Venice was taking as many as 200 students from Madison, doubling its enrollment, and getting state aid based on the inflated numbers.

"They were drawing kids that weren't theirs and getting the money," Cullen explained.

The resulting drop in state aid and enrollment compounded budget woes already triggered by a change in state law that prevented the district from collecting corporate personal property taxes from the rail yards.

In 2004, Venice residents voted to close the crumbling high school after years of deterioration and neglect. Afterward, the district applied to 12 neighboring districts to take the school's 55 students and none would. Eventually, the state ordered East St. Louis to take students who wished to attend. Last year 16 went. (About 90 students still attend the Venice grade school.)

Harry Briggs, former superintendent for the Madison County Regional Office of Education, said he pushed for a cooperative high school that would take students from Venice, Madison and Brooklyn, but the idea met with resistance from each of the communities.

"They could've offered more classes, more athletics," said Briggs, now superintendent of the Granite City School District. "But they were petty."

This year, in the absence of the charter school, the remaining 31 high school students can attend either East St. Louis or Brooklyn school districts, both of which have agreements with Venice already. But many residents and school officials want the students to attend Madison Senior High School, arguing that the historical ties and proximity make that a more logical option. Besides, they say, dozens of Venice residents already attend Madison schools anyway.

The Madison School Board, however, voted against accepting the students. Nearby Granite City won't take them, either.

"It's my intention to get in touch with the Madison superintendent and board members and find out what their concern is about accepting students from the southern end, seeing as the kids from the northern end already go there," said Venice Mayor Avery Ware. "What's the issue? I want to get to the root of it."

Of course, many cities and towns don't have high schools of their own. But in Venice the lack of a high school hits a nerve.

"I think its important to this community and it would help the community itself," Ware added. "But our main concern now is to figure out where are kids going to go to school this year."

It's not too hard to imagine why Madison and Granite City won't take the students. Chances are, that under NCLB, adding more academically distressed African-American students could be just the tipping point to plunge a district into failure according to at least one and possibly two disaggregated groups under the law. The extra money the districts would get from the state for the new students would not make up for the hit in test scores the schools would take.

A similar thing happened after the St. Louis Public Schools lost their accreditation and were taken over by the state of Missouri. The elected board of the district-- now displaced by an appointed board but still attempting to maintain the facade of influence-- asked neighboring school districts NOT to accept SLPS students if they applied to transfer, as students are allowed to do in such a situation under Missouri law (as well as, I believe, NCLB). And the neighboring districts were more than happy to oblige, (here's an example from a district next door to the city of St. Louis) unsurprisingly. No one needs to take the hit in test scores that would occur if they took in students from a failed school district.

And that's the rub. Private schools certainly can pick and choose who they take, and they are also unaffordable for most students. Remember that even if people could be given vouchers, that money would be a fraction of what tuition costs in most private schools. Charter schools are expensive to run and cumbersome to regulate, and most universities and school districts want nothing to do with the hassle. It's too risky under NCLB for other public schools to accept students whose test scores will probably be very low.

Most proponents of vouchers whom I have met are people who already send their kids to private schools, and thus can already afford it and have already met the entrance requirements. They would just like a discount in the way of tax dollars. Unfortunately, if those schools are sectarian, this infusion of tax money would violate the establishment clause in the First Amendment. (My alter-ego the History Geek reminds you that an "established religion" is one that is supported by tax dollars. That's what those words meant when they were written, at a time when, for instance, Virginia taxed residents to support the Anglican church and Massachusetts taxed residents to support the Congregationalist church.)

So it's no surprise that students can find themselves unwanted if they try to abandon failing schools in this post-NCLB world. Isn't it ironic that NCLB could lead to the further erosion of educational opportunity for our most at-risk students?

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rasing graduation rates-- like herding cats

How does our nation truly improve graduation rates? Can it be mandated a la NCLB?

Dozens of states accept any improvement in high school graduation rates as adequate progress, and several set a goal of graduating fewer than 60 percent of their students, according to a study released yesterday by the Education Trust in Washington.

While the No Child Left Behind law has created a national focus on reading and math proficiencies, it has done little to raise expectations for the number of students graduating from high school, the report said.

Because the law allowed states wide latitude, the goals for graduation rates vary widely. Nevada, for example, says its goal is to graduate 50 percent of its students; Iowa sets a target of 95 percent.

Under the federal law, states must also set targets for annual improvements, but several states say that any progress at all — even just one more diploma — is good enough, according to data collected from the Department of Education.

The report found that state-set goals for raising graduation rates are “far too low to spur needed improvement.”

“The high school diploma is the bare minimum credential necessary to have a fighting chance at successful participation in the work force of civil society,” it said. “Yet current high school accountability policies represent a stunning indifference to whether young people actually earn this critical credential.”

But the report also found that the states’ goals are too modest to raise frequently mediocre rates of graduation. In Wisconsin, a high school can be considered to be making enough progress even it improves to just 60.01 percent, the report said.

The expectations for improvement “serve as an alarming indicator of an unwillingness to address the critical need of our high schools,” wrote Daria Hall, the author of the report. “We need targets that provoke action on behalf of the students, not ones that condone the status quo.”

In a speech this week, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Education Committee and an architect of the original No Child Left Behind legislation, said reauthorization of that law should include changes so that graduation rates were used as a key measure of performance.

The report praised New York City schools for making sizable improvements in the past three years. But while New York has raised its graduation rate by six percentage points over the last three years, it still hovers around 50 percent. For the class of 2006, just 41 percent of Latino students graduated in four years.

The problem, as we have certainly seen from our experiences with NCLB, is the bad consequences of good intentions. I fear that if higher graduation rates are mandated, all that will happen is that standards will be lowered to reach whatever magical threshhold is established to graduate warm bodies.

Just like with NCLB.

Let me use a little metaphor. We love cheap goods. We need cheap goods. Therefore, we import loads of goods from China. Then we're surprised when those cheap goods from China end up being... well, cheap. Hopefully, the cheapness will make up for the stagnation of wages that makes it imperative to keep those goods cheap. And not just cheap, but sometimes downright dangerous. Toys covered with lead paint. Food augmented with sawdust. Tires that shred at highway speeds. But those goods are cheap, yessir.

Same thing with the current "standards" hubbub, which is positively Orwellian. We reduce education to the lowest common denominator so that we can claim success under NCLB. Rather than actually try to improve the quality of education, we tinker with what "proficient" means so that more kids can be labelled with that word. We claim that ALL children will read or do math on grade level, even as 25% of our students qualify for special education, and the number of students coming to school as non-English speakers-- there's another unintended consequence of our current lack of immigration policy-- mushrooms.

We have already seen the ironic erosion of dedication to a well-rounded education in the name of NCLB. In the name of raising math and reading scores, science and history classes have disappeared at nearby elementary schools. And you know, I could speculate as to why people setting policy are okay with that, but it would just depress me.

Even before NCLB became law, many states attempted to reform school accountability. To be fully accredited by the state, minimum graduation rates were established that seemed pretty rigorous. Schools all around have allegedly met this standard and reeived accreditation. So why is it that classes of seniors eligible for graduation remain so much smaller than freshman classes?

Here's the secret: at some schools, counselors spend untold hours counseling kids who have indicated an intention to drop out. There's several possible outcomes that are sought. They get the kid to claim that they are simply going to get their GED. As long as they are listed as pursuing a GED, or their parents claim to be home-schooling them, these kids do not count against the school as drop-outs. Or, they can go to a strip mall, pass a 5-20 item multiple choice exam on a computer in a room run by a for-profit company, and voila! They can magically receive credit that would have taken weeks to earn in a regular classroom. It's magic!

It's also appalling.

Everyone knows these kids have no intention of sacrificing their time and effort in preparing to pass a GED exam. If they couldn't be bothered to fulfill the very minimal requirements for a regular diploma, or even worse, one from an alternative school, they certainly aren't going to spend hours studying. Everyone knows that their parents have no intention of providing any educational program whatsoever-- they're too busy trying to earn a living, and they couldn't even make their kid attend school. And that multiple choice test at the mall is too revolting to even contemplate.

But, by golly, all of these things make those drop-out rates look absolutely fabulous.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Don't Know Much About History.... even in Jolly Olde Englande

We've talked previously about how social studies education has been de-emphasized or even dropped completely in the NCLB- dominated world in which we live. Apparently, schools in the UK suffer from the same problem, even without NCLB.

Note the sentences I have highlighted below:

Pupils in primary and secondary schools across England lack an overview of world history and have little sense of chronology, Ofsted inspectors warn. The watchdog said the curriculum was too England-focused, ignoring the rest of the UK and Europe.

They also complained that after the age of 13, only one in three children studies history at all.

Ministers and Ofsted say a new secondary curriculum from 2008 will address many of the points raised.

The watchdog based its findings on inspections carried out between 2003 and 2007.

It said the biggest issue for school history was its "limited place" in the curriculum and that history in primaries had been neglected in recent years with the focus on literacy and numeracy.

"History, along with some other subjects, has been relatively neglected in primary schools in recent years as schools have focused on literacy and numeracy," the report said.

"History's limited role is also apparent in secondary schools. In Key Stage 4 (the GCSE years), only just over 30% of pupils study history and fewer still post-16."

The inspectors said the subject also faced prejudice, with some policy developers, senior school managers, parents and pupils seeing history as less important or relevant than other subjects.

Inspectors identified that pupils were poor at establishing a chronology and did not make connections between the areas they had studied. As a result, they were not able to answer the "big questions".

"Although pupils often know something about selected periods or events - for example, children in Victorian times, Henry VIII and his wives or the Aztecs - they are weak at linking this information to form an overall narrative or story."

The report continued: "Pupils of all ages tend to study particular issues in depth but are seldom encouraged to form overviews or draw wider implications."
We've talked previously about how social studies education has been de-emphasized or even dropped completely in the NCLB- dominated world in which we live. Apparently, schools in the UK suffer from the same problem, even without NCLB.

I just have one thing to say, and it's hardly new:

Those who are ignorant of their history are doomed to repeat it.

Just because that's a cliche doesn't make it any less true....

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Monday, July 09, 2007

"Growth models:" an idea that's not so new

Apparently, common sense is breaking out in up-state New York. From the New York Times' Winnie Hu:
The Cohoes city school district, outside Albany, is considering a gifted program for elementary students and adding college-level courses after discovering that its top students improved less on standardized tests in the past two years than everyone else in the district.

In Ardsley, N.Y., a Westchester County suburb, administrators intend to place more special education students in regular classes after seeing their standardized test scores rise in the last year.

And as the New York City Department of Education begins grading each public school A to F for the first time this fall, more than half the evaluation will be based on how individual students progress on standardized tests.

All three changes resulted from an increasingly popular way of analyzing test scores, called a “growth model” because it tracks the progress of students as they move from grade to grade rather than comparing, say, this year’s fourth graders with last year’s, the traditional approach.

Concerned that the traditional way amounted to an apples-to-oranges comparison, schools in more than two dozen states have turned to growth models. Now a movement is mounting to amend the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization this year, to allow such alternative assessments of student progress.

Many urban educators contend that growth models are a fairer measure because they recognize that poor and minority students often start out behind, and thus have more to learn to reach state standards. At the same time, many school officials in affluent suburbs favor growth models because they evaluate students at all levels rather than focusing on lifting those at the bottom, thereby helping to justify instruction costs to parents and school boards at a time of shrinking budgets.

Adding growth models as a way to satisfy federal requirements to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” could make it easier for some schools to avoid penalties because they would receive credit for students who improve performance but still fall below proficiency levels. It could also increase pressure on high-performing schools that sail above state standards to prove that their students are continuing to advance.

Federal education officials agreed in 2005 to a pilot program allowing up to 10 states to experiment with growth models, but emphasized that they remained responsible for ensuring that all students would reach reading and math standards by 2014, and show consistent gains along the way. Seven states — North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Delaware, Ohio, Florida and Iowa — have joined the pilot so far, federal officials said, and on Tuesday, the Education Department green-lighted Alaska and Arizona to use growth models to analyze data from the 2006-7 school year.

“A growth model is a way for states that are already raising achievement and following the bright-line principles of the law to strengthen accountability,” Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, said in a statement. “We are open to new ideas, but when it comes to accountability, we are not taking our eye off the ball.”

And there's more to read.

You know, I could SWEAR that the idea of a "growth model" is far from a "new idea," in the words of the Queen of Charts. Hmmm, when have I seen that before?

It'll come to me....

Oh yes, during the many previous years of my educational career, including my time as a student. I still remember my and my classmates' percentile scores in reading, science, social studies, and math being compared every year to see if we really WERE actually making improvement (and strangely, they also told us our IQ scores, something I hear that isn't done any more.) I would have thought that it was absurd if my scores had been compared with the scores of the kids younger or older than my class. Because, you know, I worked hard for those scores, and they were DIFFERENT PEOPLE. Some of whom spent their days NOT reading. Some of whom spent their days smoking things.

Also known as the "longitudinal study" or "panel study"in the world of the social sciences, it's a fancy name for what is just common sense. Which is, of course, sadly lacking in much of the NCLB Act.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Remember, we have to take everyone. That's the law.

Truthiness. I am going to use that word, because here is a lady who is full of truthiness.

As I listen to yet more garbage about unmotivated teachers being the reason for All Evil in America, there's this: Teachers don't leave kids behind.
Let me present you with a scenar io: Ms. Smith teaches a class of 27 students in a classroom designed for 20. Every desk is filled, and one can only pass through the aisles by turning sideways.

Most of the students want to learn or at least want to be successful, but there are five who have no interest in furthering their education. These students talk while the teacher is talking, throw things when her back is turned and sometimes when it isn't. They sing, dance, roam the classroom, try to trip one another, horseplay and generally make it difficult to conduct class in an orderly manner. In fact, these behaviors make it difficult for a teacher to conduct class at all.

Far from being the typical class-clowning of yesteryear, these behaviors are malicious and often willfully disrespectful. From the beginning of the year, Ms. Smith has been contacting their parents, assigning detention, referring them for in-school suspension, discussing their status with principals and counselors, yelling and basically doing everything she can to contain these students. Nothing works.

When these students fail the tests and are "left behind," whose fault is it? When a wayward student injures another with horseplay, who gets sued? There are no behavioral consequences that matter for many of today's students and there are some parents who do not have the ability or the desire to discipline their children; they simply cannot or will not parent.

They don't know why teachers would take time out of their increasingly busy schedules to call and slander their children. What's wrong with those teachers anyway?

As one of the swelling number of teachers leaving the profession, I can say that many of public education's detractors need to look in the mirror; your child may be the one contributing to his or her own status as "left behind."

Now, let me just say: NEVER yell. But other than that, yeah. A little cooperation here would be nice. And by the way, I want y'all to be aware of one thing: If kids are trying to bait you into losing it, be aware tht they have camera phones that shoot video, and they are just WAITING to post your out-of-context angry tirade all over YouTube.

And for your information: this year I had 17 parents tell me how they are their children's BEST FRIENDS! Hooray!


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The de-emphasis of history education

Pulitzer-Prize winning author David McCullough is assailing the state of history literacy in our country.
Those who believe America is facing its darkest and most dangerous time since Sept. 11 are only showing their lack of knowledge of history, according to acclaimed historical writer David McCullough.

"There was no simpler time," he told a sold-out audience at Layton High School as part of Davis County's Davis Reads program. "It's a form of our present-day hubris."

McCullough, who has won two Pulitzer prizes and has written books about the Revolutionary War and influential presidents such as John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman, encouraged people to instill in their children and grandchildren a sense of history.

"History is the exploration of character," he said. "We're not doing a good job of teaching history to our children and grandchildren for the past 25 years, and we've got to do something about it."

While teachers are the "most important people in our society," he said families can not let the teaching burden fall solely on them.

"The problem is us. We have to take part," he said.

He worries that a lack of historical knowledge will result in poor leaders for the future, as the great leaders of the past steeped themselves in history.

"History affected the idea of who they were and what was expected of them," he said. "We need to educate people to be leaders or we won't have the quality of leaders we once had."

In his many campus visits, McCullough has become increasingly disconcerted with the lack of historical knowledge students have, from not knowing George Washington was commander of the Continental Army to not realizing the 13 original colonies were all on the East Coast. "Anyone who graduates without history courses is not educated, and that should change."

Not only does history mold character, he said, but it enriches lives.

"Think what they're missing when they don't read history, the enlargement of the experience of being alive," he said. "The whole experience of human kind is there for us in letters and books."

I just love him.

History education is endangered in my own children's classrooms. I notice all kinds of emphasis on math content and test-taking strategies. I still don't see a lot of scope and sequence in their math instruction, but there are certainly untold hours spent on the subject. We could talk about that all day, but let's not stray from the point.

But history is often ignored. My elementary aged children have spent precious little time on learning about history or geography or economics-- in fact, my first-grader has not had ANY assignments brought home that deal with social studies, while my fourth-grader has covered one unit on state history, and that is all. Meanwhile, hours each day are devoted to test-taking skills as those high-stakes test loom in just a few days' time. Of course, schools can only do so much-- but it would help if they actually did something. The claim is often made, "What good is it to teach a kid history if he can't read?" But I insist that history not only can help interest kids in reading, but really, that it shouldn't be an either/or proposition. One doesn't see computer instruction sacrificed on the altar of NCLB, but the humanities are already hog-tied and facing the knife in some school districts.

History education is citizenship education. It is greatly troubling that it is being sacrificed, particularly in this time when we talk about a war on terrorism, for just one instance, but our students can have no idea who the terrorists are or where they came from or why they target western countries such as the United States. What is the record of the United States when it comes to supporting democracy in the Middle East? What does democracy mean? Where did it originate? How role has Iran played in world history, both in the distant and the more recent past? What caues impel the growth of terrorism? What military tactics do terrorists use? How has modern technology made fighting terrorism both more difficult and easier?

Or, closer to home: Who was the Baron de Montesquieu, and what impact did his theories have upon the structure of the US government? What does "checks and balances" mean? What are civil liberties? Why is there tension between liberty and security? What is the title of the head of the Department of Justice? What is executive privilege? What is the history of executive privilege? When was the Department of Veteran's Affairs created? What countries in the world have the most untapped reserves of petroleum?

These are all questions that history education should, indeed MUST to create an informed and involved citizenry which can hold government accountable by demanding that it be "of the people, by the people, and for the people." That promise is meaningless if the people are mired in ignorance.

There is nothing nobler, nor more crucial in today's world.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Military Recruiting in High School: Under the Gun?

Imagine my bemusement when I opened up my school email and discovered a request from a nearby batch (what would be the collective noun? --covey? --pod? --clutch? --den? --squad?) of Army recruiters, sent to about a third of the teachers in our school. Instead of being addressed to the district as a whole, the email actually listed all of our names individually. It did not come from the District HQ as a forwarded message, nor did it include any administrators in the list of addressees. This is far from my first experience with a recruiter in my classroom, either, as I've written about here.

The email stated that the recruiters had a goal of speaking to every single junior and senior in our school before the end of the school year, and offered several different possible lessons that they could present to our classes, like on the history of the Army and so on. It later emerged that this email had not been vetted by our school district nor our building principal.

Under the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, military recruiters were allowed equal access to public school campuses. Now, of course, we all know (or at least I hope we all do) that under the No Child Left Behind Act, public schools are required to provide the names and contact information for high school students to military recruiters. Parents may opt their children out of the release of this information, but by default this information is turned over to the military.

Then a friend of mine told me about this story. It talks about certain practices that some Army recruiters have utilized in trying to make their quotas. These include stating that it is more dangerous to walk around in suburban America than in Iraq, for instance. You should read or watch this entire sorry tale.

This is unfortunately far from an isolated incident, however. If you don't believe me, try googling "news investigation military recruiter." Apparently the above claim has been used by unscrupulous recruiters all over the country. This absolutely devastates me. I also believe that this type of tactic certainly makes a lie out of the phrase "support our troops." Young people who sign up for military service as a result of this type of dissembling and false advertising certainly aren't allowed to back out of the contract that they signed when they enlist. There's certainly no such thing nowadays as getting released from a military commitment to go to graduate school.

Now, my Dad dropped out of high school to serve in the military in World War II. Two of my three uncles served as well, and my grandfather served in World War I. One of my cousins served in the Coast Guard. I have a flag like this one that was given to our family in memory of my father's service. My father-in-law, as well, served our country during World War II, and we have his flag as well. Both are in protective cases where we can look at them every day. My Dad's military service gave him access to training that later allowed him to support our family, certainly in a better manner than a high school dropout had reason to expect.

I have about sixteen former students who are currently serving in our military, and I pray for them every day. I treasure the letters I have received from basic training. But these young people voluntarily walked up to a recruiter at a booth in our high school during lunch. They were interested, they listened to the sales pitch, being free to walk away or come back as they saw fit. They knew what they were getting into, and, God bless them, they signed up fully cognizant of the fact that joining the military by definition means signing one's life over to the military without question for at least the next eight years of their lives and possibly longer if they hold a commissioned rank. They also understood that being in the military means being trained in the use of weaponry not just for the fun of it all but because they may very well be asked to place themselves where they may be aiming and using those weapons at other people who may be aiming other weapons right back at them, and who may also use those weapons to try to inflict harm upon them. They didn't believe that joining the military was the equivalent of going on a vacation to Cancun. And shame-- and, hopefully, punishment-- upon anyone who tries to convince a young person otherwise.

Now, back to that email.

I require my students to be in class without exception. I am notorious for tolerating no skipping of class. Therefore, I do not believe it is appropriate to invite these gentlemen into my classroom. I believe it is a different matter to force my students as a captive audience to listen to a recruiting sales pitch in my clasroom as a part of my instructional time, where they have no ability to absent themselves if they have no desire to hear this message--even though I would be there to clarify things for my students both during and after the presentation.

I also find it strange and even a bit troubling that these recruiters did not go through the proper channels before contacting teachers with this offer. Perhaps it was an innocent mistake-- or perhaps it was a calculated gambit.

I can give-- and do give-- presentations on the history of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps all by myself, thanks. I even have a neat little lesson I've used where we dissect the meaning of the Marine Corps hymn, and i teach my students about military insignia and rank. But I present this information in a neutral manner, and I have nothing to gain from it.

That's the way it should be in a public school.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Let us now praise brave actions...

in Connecticut, where they've filed a lawsuit decrying NCLB as an "unfunded mandate." Way to go, y'all! Basically, they're asking Dubya and his pals to put up, or shut up.

Preferably, the shut up part.

Fork over the cost of say, a bunker-buster bomb, and get out of my way! Oh. but the nattering nabobs of NCLB say, "Throwing MONEY-- filthy lucre, whatever you want to call it-- around won't solve the problem!" Yeah, but it might make sure there are texts in the hands of all kids on the first day of school-- there's a frill for ya. Interesting how money can't solve the problems of education but it can solve the heartache of millionaires who want to use my tax money to help defray the cost of their kids' private school tuition....

How about if I rename my high school after Halliburton? Okay to throw money around there, right?


Saturday, August 20, 2005


Lisa Snell at educationweak posted an interesting review of a study stating that Florida schools "suspended more low-scoring students than high-scoring students during testing periods--even when the students committed similar school crimes."

Well, sure, I'd rather deal with a smart thug than a dumb thug any day!

Testscores Uber Alles!

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