Closing The Real Achievement Gap

There‘s a lot of talk in Connecticut about closing the achievement gap between affluent students who are predominately white and poor students who are predominately black or brown, but there have been no effective actions taken and none are on the horizon. Instead, Connecticut gave up its own well-founded state standards and adopted the narrow and inadequate Common Core Standards, called them rigorous which they are not, and gave students standardized tests to measure their achievement of those quite limited standards. Then Connecticut waited for the test scores to see if the impoverished would catch up to the affluent. They haven’t and they won’t.

The poorer the Connecticut students, the lower their test scores. Standardized test scores, always and ever, are correlated with the family income of the test takers so it makes no sense to address the achievement gap by analyzing standardized test scores. The achievement gap that makes sense to address is the gap between those who succeed in their academic goals and those who do not, between those who graduate from college and those who do not.

That gap is a staggering one. For students who attended Connecticut public high schools and began college, the graduation rate is: 24.4% for black, 21.4% for Hispanic and 53.8% for white college students. Similarly, only 19% of Connecticut’s economically disadvantaged students who attend college earn a college degree as compared to 54.2% of their more advantaged peers.

Colleges and universities across the country have recognized this achievement gap in which the rich are sure to graduate and the poor are not. Nationally, 90% of college freshman born into families in the top income quartile graduate while only 25% of those born into the bottom half of the income distribution graduate. 

Colleges and universities are taking effective steps to solve the achievement gap among their students, but  Connecticut is not taking any effective steps to close the K-12 achievement gap. Colleges and universities are successful because they ask a question much different from the question that Connecticut is asking. The Connecticut question is: How can we reduce the gap in standardized test scores? The question that the colleges and universities are asking is: What can we do to improve student achievement?

As in so many things, asking the right question is the secret to success.

Research psychologists at Stanford University headed higher education in the right direction in answering the college and university question. They have for years been exploring the premise that students are often blocked from living up to their potential because of their fears about not measuring up to their peers and their doubts about their ability. They found that lack of achievement is often rooted in students’ feelings of not belonging to what they see as a community of achievers and considering themselves less academically able than others.

In one of the Stanford University studies, researchers provided students at an elite Northeastern college with a message about belonging. They informed them that everyone at their college feels overwhelmed and not smart enough and asked them to react in writing to that idea. This exercise had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study. The experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned grades in the top quarter of their class and cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.

This study was replicated at a private Midwestern university with students who were the first in their family to attend college. The result was that the achievement gap between students who were the first in their family to attend college and the students whose parents had attended college was reduced by 63%.

In another Stanford University study, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out scientific evidence against the theory of a fixed intelligence that cannot grow and change. At semester’s end, 20% of the students in the control group had dropped out of developmental math and, therefore, out of college, compared with just 9% of the treatment group. This intervention cut the community-college math dropout rate by more than half.

At the University of Texas at Austin, a chemistry professor, David Laude, worked with the same hypothesis as the Stamford researchers. He identified 50 students who had lower SAT scores, were economically disadvantaged, and the first in their families to attend college. He taught them the exact same curriculum and gave them the exact same tests as the 400 students in his other class. The difference was that he involved the fifty students in a program which gave them both a sense of belonging to a group of achievers and strategies for developing themselves as learners. The result was that this group of disadvantaged students, who were 200 points lower on the SAT than students in Laude’s larger section, had exactly the same grade distribution as the students in the larger section. The impact went beyond that chemistry class. This group  of 50 students who, statistically, were on track to fail, returned for their sophomore year at rates above average for the university as a whole and three years later had graduation rates that were above the university average.

Laude has now been appointed senior vice provost, charged with improving the four-year graduation rate. He instituted a program, based on the same premises as his chemistry program, for 500 students who are low income, first members in their family to attend college, have lower SAT scores, and a graduation rate of 20%. These 500 students are given $5000 a year scholarships for which they are required to be in leadership positions on campus, participate in campus internships, and attend weekly lectures on developing strategies for learning. Through these activities, students gain a sense of themselves as part of the community of achievers and learn how to learn.

Also at the University of Texas at Austin, David Yeager, a psychology professor and former Stanford researcher, has been commissioned to address the dropout rate among poorer students with lower SAT’s and the first in their family to go to college. As part of freshman orientation, he asked students to read articles that address their sense of belonging in an academically challenging environment and that discuss the brain as malleable and able to grow and change its capability with effort. With this simple intervention, the University of Texas cut in half the achievement gap between advantaged freshmen and freshmen who are black, Latino, first-generation, and/or poor.

Many colleges and universities are instituting programs to address the particular learning needs of students who are poor and first in their family to attend college. Brown hosted the first Inter-Ivy First Generation Student Network Conference in 2012, drawing students from across the country. Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, Brown and Yale are involved in a multi-year study in which they interview first generation students from low income families (usually an income under $40,00 year) to ascertain their needs. These programs for first generation college students seek to give students  both a sense of belonging and strategies for learning.

What can we in Connecticut learn from higher education? How can we close the real achievement gap? How can we close the gap between our children who become well-educated and accomplished human beings and our children who become dropouts from the world of education and accomplishment?

Here is a plan to close Connecticut’s K-12 achievement gap:

First: End high stakes standardized tests. With standardized tests, test prep becomes the curriculum, and all students – black, brown, white, poor, and affluent –  are deprived of real learning. Standardized tests also deprive the poor, the black, and the brown of a fair chance. Standardized tests hurt all children.

Second: Ask educators to design performance assessments which demonstrate what students can do, how they can think, how they learn, and what they can create in each discipline.

Third: Require each school district to create a curriculum which teaches students strategies for learning in a developmental progression from K-12.

Fourth: Hold all of us – teachers, school administrators, school boards, teachers unions, the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Connecticut State Board of Education, legislators, the governor – to the same standard. That standard is: What are you doing to bring all the students for whom you are responsible into the community of achievers?

Then, and only then, will Connecticut close its achievement gap.

If Not Us, Who?

Public education in this country will be saved and will grow in new and exciting ways only if those who believe in public education take action. Educators, parents, and citizens must speak up. We together can change what kids learn, how they are tested, and where the money in our state and localities is spent. The first step is to join together. Those who  work to privatize public education and trivialize what is taught in public schools have the money, but educators have the knowledge about kids and about how to teach. Chris Willems, a New Haven teacher, is one educator who is taking action. 

Chris said that he wrote the piece below ” for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality and refuses to accept assessments, tests, and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and real learning”.  Let’s join Chris in action. If not us, who?

   Report from a First Time Union Delegate

                                                                  by Chris Willems

“We are fighting a battle of immense proportions that threatens to destroy all we and others in the labor movement have worked for. This battle is ultimately over who holds power in our economy and our democracy. It is a battle to reclaim the promise of America.”

-AFT CT Resolution on Member Engagement

I am a science teacher in New Haven, CT and am thrilled to have an active role as a national delegate within our local union #933, the New Haven Federation of Teachers. Eric Maroney and I are first-time delegates, and our responsibilities include attending state and national conventions as the representative voices of our brothers and sisters in the New Haven Federation of Teachers. It has been a fascinating and energizing experience. I am going to share an update on what I learned this summer, and I challenge you to engage in the dialogue.

On Saturday May 21, 2016, AFT CT hosted the annual business convention at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville, CT. Our business involved recognizing affiliates who represented the approximately 30,000 AFT CT members in attendance, approving the minutes from the last convention, amending our constitution, and passing resolutions.

The theme “Reclaiming our Solidarity” rippled through the presentations and celebrations. AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier spoke of how firefighters have aligned with paraprofessionals to strengthen local unions. I was inspired by the stories Lori told and began to think about ways in which our own union can partner with others in the New Haven community to benefit those we serve.

On a more sobering note, we were reminded to prepare for more legal cases targeting labor unions for elimination. A Supreme Court case from this past spring that many of our members may have heard about in the national press, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, would likely have been decided against unions had Justice Antonin Scalia not died unexpectedly. The case was decided 4-4. This means unions will be able to continue to automatically charge members the agency fees.

With regard to issues specific to education, AFT National president Randi Weingarten celebrated the new federal education law, “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA), and said it promises to decouple high stakes standardized tests from teacher evaluation. Ms. Weingarten encouraged us to get involved in the implementation of ESSA in CT. She said the “starve and privatize” strategy of 20 years ago is dead and we are now in a new era. She spoke of the power of community schools and the potential under ESSA to adopt the practices of the Performance Assessment Consortium of NYC. http://performanceassessment.org/

Ms. Weingarten spoke of the pain caused by the job-killing 2016 CT state budget.

There are over $830 million dollars in cuts: Education Cost Sharing was cut by 34 million (5.7% cut); $7 million was cut from the Technical High School System; higher education and Medicare are also facing deep cuts.

She suggested we turn our legitimate anger against Governor Dannel Malloy to action. She suggested we “fight the really bad things and fight harder for the good things”.   Specifically, she suggested we call out the legislators who voted for Malloy’s harmful budget. To that end, AFT CT is interviewing politicians before giving endorsements for the fall. Visit http://aftct.org for opportunities to get involved.

As AFT CT delegates, we passed very powerful, worker-centered resolutions on climate change, community engagement, member engagement, teacher leadership, and teacher diversity. This year, we plan to focus on supporting these resolutions and making them come alive in New Haven. Our first event will be joining AFT CT on Thursday, October 6 for school “Walk Ins” as part of our Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS). http://www.reclaimourschools.org

The last exciting news at the AFT CT meeting was seeing NHFT leadership learn about the powerful online “Toolkit” for membership and training.   These web tools are available on mobile devices and will allow our local to more efficiently communicate and organize!

The AFT National Convention was held in Minneapolis from July 18-21, 2016 and was a HUGE event! Eric and I knew it was going to be big, but we were blown away by the amazing diversity and the passion that members brought to the presentations and debates. There were 2,600 delegates representing 1.6 million teachers and healthcare workers. We had the opportunity to hear from giants of union activism such as Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers, as well as Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton!   Each day, the convention center was filled with passionate workers from all over our country, and most notably the red-shirt wearing Chicago Teachers Union delegates! CTU represented unified teacher resistance in action. Next time, we will have NHFT tee shirts!

I chose to serve on the Labor and the Economy Committee. At the convention, we moved three resolutions: Attacking Income Inequality, Opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Achieving Tax Fairness by Cracking Down on Offshore Tax Havens. My fellow first-time delegate, Eric Maroney, served on the Organizing and Collective Bargaining Committee. All passed resolutions are at http://www.aft.org/about/resolutions. We will be following the legislative and organizing actions AFT takes to advance these critical issues. Before the next convention in 2018 in Pittsburgh, we will have the opportunity to propose new action resolutions.

When I first arrived at the convention, I was thrilled to see a table announcing the formation of a new caucus. Our AFT-BATs caucus will collaborate to advance our work as pro-public education teacher activists.

At the convention, Badass Teacher leaders, Marla Kilfoyle and Jamy Brice-Hyde, shared the results of this year’s BATS/AFT Quality-of Worklife survey of 30,000 educators http://www.aft.org/news/survey-shows-need-national-focus-workplace-stress. These distressing survey results are a powerful reminder that a teacher’s work environment is also our students’ learning environment. We need to be kind and take care of one another – all our school colleagues and students!

Please contact me or any other member of the NHFT Community Action Now committee. NHFT CAN is excited for the Thursday, October 6 “Walk Ins”.

I look forward to continuing to serve as a delegate. I’m closing with another quote from the AFT CT Resolution on Member Engagement:

“Our soul, our heart, our courage and our power lie with our members and our communities, and always have.”

I believe our solidarity with one another and our New Haven community is more important in these uncertain times. There are powerful forces jockeying for influence and money. We must support one another and be supported, so we can continue to provide direct support to our students.

 

Lin-Manuel Miranda or Common Core: Pick One

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s and the Common Core’s kind of class could not be more different. Which class do you think  best helps kids to excel as learners and thinkers?

Choice One: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Just two days before his final performance in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a former high school teacher, spoke to 200 high school teachers and described what he thought learning should look like.

He used his experience in the theater to talk about the classroom. He advocated that teachers engage students in questioning  and connecting with what they are studying. He explained how students become stronger thinkers by listening to the ideas and questions of their classmates. In Miranda’s kind of classroom, the teacher does not give students the one right answer but rather expects them to have their own individual, well-referenced interpretations and their own evaluations of  ideas. The teacher creates a classroom community in which diversity of thought is valued and in which the students explore ideas by engaging in intellectual endeavors together. The teacher knows that students benefit from being aware of their own learning and thinking processes so engages them in considering how they go about learning something and how their minds work. The teacher brings his or her own joy and purpose to the classroom and delights in the students finding joy and purpose of their own as they read, write, and think together through the school year.

Read Miranda’s own words here:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Freallearningct%2Fposts%2F1421467671213451&width=500

Choice Two: Common Core

The accompanying 15-minute video shows you what a Common Core English class is like. David Coleman, the chief author of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, is the speaker.  The lesson is for a 7th grade class ; the topic is Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  View here.  In this lesson, the teacher has all the answers. The  meaning of King’s letter is, as the Common Core insists,  found “within the four corners of the page” and must be dug out. The students are not allowed to personally connect with the letter, ask their own questions, choose a line of significance to them, or explore the historical background of what King wrote. They do not analyze how the actions of  society in King’s time or theirs connects to King’s advocacy for justice. Students, instead, are asked to figure out King’s intent in writing the letter by analyzing the word choice and rhetorical structure he uses.

In the beginning of the lesson, David Coleman says that his lesson will debunk the three “popular” ways of teaching literature, but, little does he know, those ways are not popular at all. He wrongly says those three “popular” ways are: the teacher summarizing for students what they are going to read before they read it, the teacher asking students to predict what will happen before they read it, and the teacher using what they read to teach a concept like main idea or cause and effect.  He doesn’t mention at all what is really the reason we teach literature: to engage students with provocative ideas and provide them with opportunities to  construct their own meaning about those ideas.

Decision Time: Pick One of the Above

It is one or the other.  Lin-Manuel Miranda or  Common Core . You can’t have both because the two approaches are philosophically and pedagogically opposed to each other. Both require close reading. Both require students to use text evidence. The difference is in whether you see education as pouring information into the empty heads of passive students or see education as inspiring students to be all they can be.

Choose wisely.

 

 

Call To Action: Support NAACP

As  I sat at the meeting of the education committee of the Connecticut General Assembly in early spring and heard the CEO of the charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN, say that Connecticut needed more seats in charter schools in order to save students from “being trapped in failing schools”, I had questions.

First of all,  if thousands of children are suffering, why is the concern with just helping a handful of them? Only 1.5% of Connecticut’s public school students are in charter schools. What about the other 98.5%?  Do we have a lifeboat mentality in which a few are rescued and the rest go down with what charter school advocates are happy to call a sinking ship? How is that fair?

Secondly, what happened to Sheff vs. O’Neill, the court  case which set clear goals for integrating schools in Connecticut? All of the charter school students accompanying the CEO of ConnCAN to the legislative hearing were children of color. Clearly, the enrollment of Connecticut’s charter schools mirrors the national figures as reported by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which states: “Charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools 1n virtually every state and every metropolitan area in the nation.” The report points out that 70% of charter school students are in schools in which 90-100% of the students are students of color, which is double the number of students  segregated in that way in traditional public schools.

Thirdly, how do we know which schools are “failing” and which are not?  Nationally, about 50% of charter schools perform the same as their traditional public school counterparts although the charter school student population is more selective and has fewer special education students and fewer students with English as a second language. The other 50% of charter schools are about equally divided between some doing better than traditional public schools and others doing worse than traditional public schools. Clearly, being a charter school does not exempt a school from being a “failing school”. If charter schools offered an education  that is innovative and exciting, then surely the suburban parents would clamor for them to be in their communities.

Fourthly, how can a school build a good curriculum and sound pedagogy when the staff has a high rate of turnover? Charter schools have a 20-45% teacher turnover rate with young, uncertified teachers who have no teaching experience coming in each year and staying for an average of 2.3 years.  High teacher turnover affects the quality of the education because it impedes the development of instructional cohesion within the school.

Fifthly,  what about the high suspension rates in charter schools? For example, last year, 23.78 % of the children were suspended at a charter elementary school in New Haven (Achievement First’s Amistad Academy), 58.6% of the students at one charter high school (Elm City College Prep) and 53.5% of students at another high school (Bridgeport Achievement First) were suspended as compared to 25 % of high school students suspended from schools identified by the state as the lowest performing schools in the state. The average suspension rate for all of Connecticut’s high schools is 12.3%. Currently, Achievement First Hartford , which has elementary grades through high school, is on probation after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of suspensions as well as for having too many uncertified teachers.

In addition, what about the governance of charter schools which take taxpayer money but deny taxpayer oversight and refuse transparency? Their boards are comprised largely of wealthy entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers from outside of the school’s community rather than comprised of parents and citizens of the community?

And lastly, if charter schools  are about good education, why are they not in suburban communities? Are charter schools done to impoverished communities of color more than  for impoverished communities of color?  Is the charter school movement part of what Rupert Murdoch calls a  profit-making  “$500 billion sector in the US alone” and  violated on the unsuspecting parents who are earnestly searching for the best for their children?  Are charter schools windfalls for enterprising entrepreneurs?

I left the meeting concerned.

Then I later became dismayed. The result of the hearing was that in June the  Governor gave the legislature an ultimatum: 401 new charter school seats must be funded. That resulted in an increase of 4.1 million  allocated  for charter schools and a decrease of 51.7 million for traditional public schools and a decrease of 15.4 million for magnet schools. Connecticut is in a financial crisis; everything is being trimmed. The only way to account for the increasing of the budget allocation for charter schools is to recognize the role of campaign financing. The Governor’s chief campaign contributor, a wealthy entrepreneur,  sits on the boards of charter schools and is a lead advocator for charter schools in Connecticut.

Politics. Profits for entrepreneurs. Racism. Inadequate learning experiences for students. What hope is there for all the children?

But then came the summer and the good news…….

The NAACP is doing something for all of the children.. They have taken a firm stand. At their national convention in July, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools.  The NAACP criticized charter schools for lack of public governance, the targeting of low income communities of color, increased segregation, inadequate teaching staffs, and harsh disciplinary practices. The organization that has long been in the forefront of highlighting  civil rights violations has taken the lead. More than 50 African American social advocacy groups, including the  Black Lives Matter movement has joined the NAACP, stating that charter schools represent a “systemic  attack” on communities of color.

The resolution for a moratorium on charter school expansion requires ratification  by the Board of Directors of the NAACP at a board meeting in the fall. The charter school industry, with the unlimited money of  Bill and Melinda Gates, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton family are marshaling forces to overturn the NAACP resolution. A PAC called  Democrats for Education Reform, whose board is composed largely of hedge fund managers who seem to regard  privatizing education through charters schools as a  way to  turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital, are engaged in fierce opposition to the NAACP resolution.

You can be a voice in this controversy. If you believe that the NAACP has taken a positive  step forward with their call for a moratorium on new charter schools,  please join me by clicking on the this link to state your support of the NAACP for their wise and courageous resolution. 

Sure we have a lot to do to improve education: fund universal Pre-K, reduce class size in K-12, improve supportive services,  get rid of the damaging Common Core, and replace standardized tests with effective assessments. But first we must say loudly and firmly that those improvements are for ALL children. We, as a nation, must stop  privatizing public education with profit-making, racial profiling charter schools for SOME of our children and, instead, focus on ALL of our children. Our democracy demands it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       Requiring the SAT Gets Connecticut Less Than Nothing

Big News! It was on the front page of the The Hartford Courant, reported on in all the other state newspapers, and featured on the Connecticut State Department of Education website:

Nearly 66% of 11th graders met the state standards for English and 40% met the state standards for math on the 2016 SAT.

And what does that tell us about what Connecticut has gained from fully funding the SAT for all high school juniors?

Absolutely nothing.

It was a waste of taxpayer money.

First of all, it doesn’t tell us anything about who is ready for college. The SAT is based on the Common Core Standards, which Connecticut has taken as its own. The Common Core Standards lack validity and reliability. Common Core Standards were written, without input from educators at the K-12 or college level, by employees of testing companies and companies that analyze standardized test data. They were never field-tested to see if being successful with those standards makes for achievement in college. So we don’t know if we should be happy if students score well because it could be that they succeeded at something that is innocuous at best and inferior education at worst.

We do know that getting a high score on the SAT gives us no information about the students’ ability to ask their own questions, make their own connections, and construct their own meaning as they read, or express their own ideas as they write in a personal voice because the Common Core rejects those skills. And we do know that those are skills needed for college. Therefore, SAT scores don’t tell us if students will be successful in college.

Secondly, this SAT does not allow for comparisons because it is a new test. Scores cannot be compared to the SAT of past years. It has different content and a different way of being scored than past tests. Also, the student population taking the SAT has changed. Previously, 82% of high school juniors took the SAT; in 2016, with the new requirement,  94 % took the test. So with different content, scoring, and test-taking populations, no conclusions about student improvement or decline can be made.

Thirdly, some may say we need the SAT to ascertain how Connecticut is doing as compared to other states, but we have the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the Nation’s Report Card, that gives state-by-state reports. NAEP tests students in reading and math and scores them, based on college readiness. There is no charge to the state or local districts. Individual scores are not reported so there is no punishments for students. Best of all, there is no class time sacrificed to prepare for the tests because, during the school year, districts do not know if they are to be tested that year.

Fourthly, the SAT is not the necessity it once was. Increasingly, high school students do not need SAT scores for their college applications. Colleges and universities are realizing the limits of standardized tests as indicators of a prospective student’s academic promise and intellectual strength. Currently, 850 colleges and universities, including 210 in the “top tier”, do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission to bachelor degree programs. The research is clear, and colleges and universities are responding to it: High school grade point average is the predictor of success in college, not standardized tests.

So why does the State of Connecticut mandate that all high school juniors take the SAT?

The only reason left is the one politicians love to herald: To close the achievement gap.

Only those who have never taught students could give that answer. Educators know that there is no way that any set of standards or any standardized test has ever or will ever overcome the damage of poverty and racism. In fact, mandating standardized tests reinforces that damage and tells many impoverished students and students of color that they do not belong in the mainstream. Standardized test scores, including the SAT, are always correlated with the income of students’ parents. With the current 2016 SAT, school districts with higher scores include the affluent towns of Darien, Simsbury, Westport, and Wilton; school districts with lower scores include the cities of Hartford, Waterbury, and Bridgeport with their high rates of poverty. And so it has ever been.

Students with parents who have the time, the energy, the money, and the benefits from their own higher education to enrich the lives of their children and support them in school will always score higher than most students whose parents do not have those advantages. How could it be otherwise?

So mandating the SAT is not even a neutral event; mandating the SAT for all high school juniors is not just a nothing. It actually does harm. It limits the curriculum for all students, affluent and poor, and turns the curriculum into test prep. It does added harm to those students most in need because the cost of the tests, test prep materials, and the technology to administer the tests takes financial resources away from addressing their needs propelled by poverty and racism.

There is a path forward. Connecticut must:

  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach. We must recognize that we are foolishly spending millions of dollars on SBAC and the SAT, and it gains nothing for us as a state. The tests reinforce Connecticut’s shame: unconscionable income inequality.
  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach because it denies our children a real education as learners and thinkers that they deserve.
  1. Use the money now spent on testing to invest in what has been proven to improve student achievement. It is what every teacher knows works: positive relationships with adults in schools. Educators know that having those positive relationships with adults engages students in school, inspires them to want to learn, and gives them the skills to succeed and live productive lives. According to Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Education Law Center in Newark, NJ, researchers have identified three ways to foster those adult/student relationships:
  • Provide developmentally appropriate preschool in which the emphasis is on play.
  • Mandate small class size in grades K-12.
  • Reduce the student caseload of guidance counselors.

Let’s put our money where we are sure we can make a difference. It’s time to stop spending money and getting nothing for it. And, worse yet, spending money and getting less than nothing by hurting our most precious resource as a state: our children.

 

 

 

 

P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers

 The New York Times, whose  writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published ” The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Errorpointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them. 

I would like to add a P.S. 

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing  to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences. 

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning  the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

 And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:  

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.

         •

It’s Time To Talk To Your Superdelegates

If you are concerned about education in this country, the fate of the nation, or the survival of the planet, here is a sample letter that you may use to send to your superdelegates. The list of 2016 Democratic superdelegates is included.  Please use this sample letter or write your own letter or call your superdelegates. It’s all we can do now.

It just might be up to us. 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Dear Superdelegate:

We cannot have Donald Trump as our President. You are one of the only people in the country who can keep that from happening. Please change your vote to the Democrat who can win.

I know that a year ago you decided to cast your vote for Hillary Clinton at the Convention, but so much has happened in that year. You could not have foreseen then where we, as a country, would be now. No one could have.

Hillary looked then like the only game in town. She didn’t appear to have a substantial Democratic opponent, and Donald Trump wasn’t being taken seriously as a possible Republican nominee. All that has changed. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee, and Hillary Clinton has become unelectable.

Hillary is unelectable because she is associated deeply with all that most voters find distasteful in a presidential candidate: courting big money donors, a sense of entitlement within the privileged establishment, and an inability to inspire and call us to greatness. The more the electorate has come to know Hillary in the past year, the less they like her. Hillary had approval ratings of 64% as Secretary of State, and earlier this month had approval ratings of just 34%. And that was before the Inspector General’s report.

The report of the Inspector General of the U.S. State Department charged Hillary with breaking the rules of the U.S. State Department in how she used emails as Secretary of State. She did not ask permission to use a private server in her home for government business, and if she had, it would have been denied. She did not preserve and turn over her emails when she left office as required by the Federal Records Act. All prior secretaries of state, as well as John Kerry, were interviewed by the Inspector General for the State Department investigation, but Hillary Clinton refused to be interviewed and would not permit her staff to be interviewed either. She put herself above the law in so many ways. As TV political commentator Chuck Todd said, Hillary could not now be confirmed for a cabinet position with those actions as part of her history. All the more, she cannot be President.

Worse yet for her, she lied about her actions after the State Department report was made public. If she had told the truth at that time, perhaps her candidacy could have been saved. The public will not forgive her for looking straight at the camera and lying. It makes fools of anyone who tries to defend her. And no one wants to be thought of as a fool.

Even the Hillary-supporting MSNBC reporters were appalled at Hillary’s flagrant disregard of the rules of the State Department and her lies in covering it up. The Republicans and Donald Trump will be much more critical and more savage than the now skeptical MSNBC reporters.

For the sake of all that is good about us as a country and for the sake of the world that needs us to be our best selves as a nation, we cannot elect Donald Trump as President. Please prevent that disaster by casting your vote in Philadelphia for Bernie Sanders who will continue Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and work to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream come true. Because he has traditional Democratic values, Bernie Sanders inspires people. And Bernie Sanders can win in November.

Sincerely,