Posts Tagged ‘NAEP’

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.




Winter’s Tale

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

My fourth grade students tromp into class each January morning wearing down jackets, scarves, baseball caps, nylon basketball shorts, and tennies, or better yet, flip-flops. The conglomeration of clothes is my fourth graders’ way of high-fashion dress, a nod to freezing winter temperatures and a nod to California sunshine.

California Bay Area elementary school

California Bay Area elementary school

On the other hand, my students are serious learners. On return to school after New Year’s, we began a science unit on classification of animals and plants. They learn fast, hold facts in their brains, and are quick to apply what they know.

On the study question that asked students to classify creatures in a photo as omnivores (plant and meat eaters) or herbivores (plant eaters) and give reasons, most students claimed bacteria were omnivores while the teacher’s manual said bacteria were herbivores. However, the students claimed they were correct because scientists have learned that many bacteria digest anything. How do they know? These children watched a lot of media coverage about the gulf oil spill, especially when the reports talked about petroleum-eating bacteria.

What does any highly qualified teacher do? I analyzed the data. It turns out those students were generally correct, but they had not read the question carefully.

The students certainly knew about omnivores and herbivores and didn’t need to have a review lesson on that scientific topic. If I had given points only by counting correct answers, I would never know that these smart students needed more instruction on the study skill of reading the question carefully before deciding on an answer.

The more I read about the poor scores of students in the United States on summative tests like the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the more I shake my head. Recent NAEP science test results reported that only 34% of a sampling of 308,000 fourth graders were proficient. The test was given to schools nation-wide in early 2009.

Statistical array results can bring up a lot of questions. Teachers aren’t teaching enough science because the focus is on reading/language arts and math? Science instruction is given short shrift because the teaching/learning day isn’t long enough? Public school budget crises divert attention from student academic achievement? Professional development isn’t emphasized unless the topic is reading and math?

Or all of the above? Education experts arguing about reform often use the results from NAEP tests to bolster any and all of the positions listed above.

Still, at my school for my class of students in 2011, the answer is none of the above. Above all, we do have the resources to analyze data. So here is the conundrum. Our school district does not volunteer to give the NAEP assessment. But how many of my kids would have proficient scores on that exam? I think almost all of them.

The scores, however, would not tell me which students needed more help with the study skill of reading the question carefully. To be proficient in high school and college, students need that skill, not only science facts.

What the NAEP results do tell me is that one time scores give a glimpse of science learning in the country’s schools, but what teachers need is collaborative time to analyze results and make instructional decisions that address student needs at a particular school.

And remember, they’re only in fourth grade. Minus jackets and mufflers, they’ve run outside to play soccer at recess in the California sun.