Archive for the ‘Nation’s Report Card’ Category

Victory Often Changes Her Side

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The president-elect’s cabinet is filled with conservatives whose goal is to kick federal bureaucracies down the right field, incorporating policies that most in education, for example, wince to hear or read.

The president-elect’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist with ties to Amway and the Family Research Council, both funding religious organizations and schools. She was selected, first, because she contributes large amounts to the GOP and, second, because she has spent years in Michigan supporting for-profit charter schools that are not doing as well as the public schools (National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP – results) and vouchers for private and parochial schools.

Some charter schools in some states have served children well, especially when the purpose is to provide students with alternate modes of learning. When the schools are promoted as a tool for providing the “Christian” way of learning, which Ms. DeVos advocates, the founding fathers’ First Amendment policy of “separation of church and state” is attacked.

Children go to Saturday or Sunday School or After-School Fellowships to ponder any number of religious ways of thinking. Public schools teach reading, written expression, oral language use, mathematics, science and social science/history, and do not “advance God’s kingdom,” as Ms. DeVos stated at a gathering of Christian philanthropists. New York Times, Op-Ed “DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” by Katherine Stewart, December 13, 2016.

Vouchers can be looked at as another tool, which proponents may say is to provide better learning opportunities for all children, but if the funds are directed to be used to attend private “Christian” or parochial schools, the same problem exists.

In addition, the president-elect has proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program for “school choice”, right up Ms. DeVos’ alley. However, only 9% of the $600 billion a year spent in the country for education comes from federal sources used for specific purposes – for students with special needs or in low-income neighborhoods. Along with all the tax cuts, tax credits, military spending, and eliminating the budget deficit that the president-elect proposes, it is hard to fathom $20 billion being available or enough to help all the students in the United States, even if states are told to kick in some of the cost.

Assuming she’s confirmed and Ms. DeVos actually enters her office at the Department of Education, it might be possible that she has done some reading about the policies of the DOE. Perhaps she’ll realize the value of advocating for the pursuit of strong programs in every United States school to close the achievement gap; to further support Common Core State Standards (remember, devised and coordinated by the states), in spite of VP-elect Mike Pence’s dislike of the standards movement; to understand the conflict over testing vs. learning; and to keep her mouth closed about her LBGT feelings in light of the total number of students her position demands she support.

What can we do? Check out the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, founded by two educators in Chicago and supported by NEA and AFT along with eight other strong national organizations, to stage a Day of Action on January 19, 2017, all over the country, the day before the inauguration. Along with the January 21 Women’s March, Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and his other cabinet members might soon see that it’s necessary to address the concerns of the 65,746,544 popular voters for Ms. Clinton. His side may be the Electoral College winner, but “Victory often changes her side.” Homer, Iliad.





As the November 2016 Election Nears

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

News about government legal action seems more important when the presidential elections are coming.

In September 2016, the news told about the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision that the legislature’s funding for schools in the state was unconstitutional and purposely inequitable among the public school districts. In essence, school infrastructure is inadequate, teachers are poorly evaluated, students graduate unable to read well, achievement gaps persist between high-income and low-income communities. These problems pop up country-wide, in spite of the celebrated move from No Child Left Behind Act to Every Student Succeeds Act, the new name for the congressional Elementary and Secondary Education Act revised in 2015.

The Connecticut’s Supreme Court decision has come after a decade of legal action, and other states are facing the same actions about adequate and equitable funding for public schools –  in Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey.

However, some states moved forward long ago. In 1993, facing a school funding lawsuit, Massachusetts legislature passed an act that evened out funding between well-to-do districts and poor districts and set high achievement standards that has resulted in improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. Massachusetts is now considered to have a high-achieving system of public schools.

The presidential candidates are wrangling about federal tax rates which affect funding for schools. So, what are states around the country doing to fund schools and address issues to help schools improve, instead of waiting for lawsuits that take years to reach a decision from state Supreme Courts and even end up at the United States Supreme Court?

For example, in California two propositions on the November election ballot advocate for a kindergarten through community college public education facilities Bond Act of 2016 to bring infrastructure up to code for earthquake, fire, and asbestos – still an issue for California. How about states facing tornado damage, hurricanes, and flooding?

In addition, a measure for an extension on tax rates for the wealthiest to fund children’s education and healthcare – not bureaucracy or administration – is on the ballot.

Although Santa Clara County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state, the legislature addressed an issue – AB 2368. It will ease restrictions for low-income families in the county, giving Santa Clara County government limited flexibility regarding child care and early childhood education subsidy funds so that all low-income pre-school-aged children have the advantages of well-to-do families.

Look at your state legislature and local government action in the November election!

Let’s look at what’s happening in the schools during this controversial election.

From last Spring to Fall, an on-line survey of 2,00 K-12 teachers, nationwide, report the toxic outcomes of what educators call the Trump Effect. Although many articles have been written and discussed in previous Take Care posts about teaching student collaboration and responsibility for their actions and words, the survey reports in elementary and high schools an increase in bullying and students fearful for their status as immigrants.

For instance, in Silicon Valley’s city of Mountain View, California, using social media to make threats against the school, though not targeting specific students or staff members, “three (Mountain View High School) suspects…were detained, questioned, and eventually arrested at the Mountain View Police Department Monday morning October 10. The teens were all arrested on charges of making criminal threats and conspiring to commit a crime.” Mountain View Voice Online, “Three MVHS teens arrested over social media threats” by Kevin Forestieri, October 10, 2016.

In a year of news about war, shouting lies and claiming truth, shooting people of color, and targeting attacks on police officers, how can teachers “explain the unexplainable”? nea Today “The Trump Effect” by Amanda Litvinov, Summer 2016.

Tolerance versus hate-filled language is a troubling concern for teachers, but perhaps we can take heart when a teacher notes after the second presidential debate that “My fourth graders give better presentations than Trump,” Sarah Noonan on Facebook, October 10, 2016. The post may be partisan, but it’s not hate-filled.

Perhaps teachers can find ways to teach students to do as Michelle Obama said, “When they take the low road, we take the high.” Difficult, but maybe a way to address the unexplainable.




Learning Math in the USA

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

How can we be doing so badly?  The richest country in the world and our kids can’t get a decent math test score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

hands-on math in textbook

hands-on math in textbook

That, at least, is the judgment based on data from the 2009 Nation’s Report Card released Wednesday, October 14, 2009, and noted in many national newspapers.  The San Francisco Chronicle, “State’s math scores near bottom” by Jill Tucker, says, “California consistently has ranked among the lowest-scoring states”–third from the bottom after this year’s testing sample, only Alabama and Mississippi with lower scores.

On the other hand, except for once every two years when the Nation’s Report Card test scores hit the newspaper, only a few people in the education world know the test was given.  When teaching, I never knew a school or teacher who had given the test.  I’d never seen an example of the test.

It’s a bet that only math gurus at the State Department of Education know fourth grade math proficiency has grown from a scale score 208 in 1992 when the test was first given in California to 232 this year, compared to USA national average 239.  The bad news is two years ago fourth graders had almost the same paltry score-230–out of a possible 500 scale score (a statistical tool to compare data from all 50 states).

The final insult is only 35% of California fourth graders learned enough of the federal math standards to achieve scale scores considered proficient or advanced.

How can that be when the level of proficiency or better on the California Standards Test (CST) used as a growth benchmark for the California Academic Performance Index (API) and the national Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) report has shown considerable improvement?

How? Why?

After much clicking through data on the National Center for Education Statistics’ unfriendly website, the following was disgorged about California NAEP math scores:

1) 7400 of 6 million California students were tested

2) 310 schools agreed to give the test in Fresno School District, San Diego Unified, and Los Angeles Unified

3) where the largest groups of English Language Learners (ELL) in the state reside.

No wonder the scores are weak (ELL average scale score 211).  Every California school district already knows that the achievement gap in the state is most disparate for students who speak little English.

Seems like, as teachers say all the time, too many exams.  Teachers in-the-know are busy looking at in-school assessments, using on-site data to make teaching decisions for improvement in state standards math instruction.

Nevertheless, newspaper articles and various reports about NAEP student failure point to four problems.

1) Every state has different math standards, some too easy, some too broadly defined, none matching the federal standards.

2) State assessments are too easy or don’t assess the most important math standards.

3) State proficiency benchmarks are too low.

4) Teacher preparation, credentialing, and professional development aren’t good enough, often blamed on teacher’s union policies.

What to do?

Most teachers will say, get on with it, create common standards, assessments, and benchmarks between states for math education.  Another well-kept secret, 48 states have agreed to do so.  An example is the New England Common Assessment Program.

Most important by far, states need to step up and fork over the money to “turn around” low performing schools which all those achievement gap ELL students attend.  Various studies have documented a small number of excellent schools for “turn around” models.*

Once attendance is secured, high standards made clear, parents involved, teachers well-supported, the curriculum may begin to stress critical thinking skills, the way to pass any test with flying colors, no matter who gives the exam.

*The school community wants to talk about this dilemma?  Take Care!, showing ways for the school community’s adults to resolve problems successfully,  may help.  See the website for this blog.