Miguel Cardona, Who Are You?

President Joe Biden has nominated Miguel Cardona, the current Connecticut Commissioner of Education, to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. Anyone he nominated would be better than Trump’s Secretary of Education. But who is Miguel Cardona and what is the vision that he brings to the U.S. Department of Education and to the teaching and learning in all of the schools in this nation? 

When I ask Connecticut teachers about Miguel Cardona, those who know him or have worked with him say that he is really nice guy who knows what the challenges in our classrooms are, knows how to help teachers to improve their teaching, and respects public schools. All good.

The majority of Connecticut teachers who don’t know him personally say that he has been largely quiet as Commissioner and are critical that he seems more interested in keeping schools open than in caring about public health, including the welfare of teachers, students and students’ families during the pandemic. 

But what is his vision for teaching and learning that he will bring to the U.S. Department of Education? When appointed Commissioner of Education in Connecticut 19 months ago, he stated that his goals would be to:

  1. Make a positive impact on graduation rates.
  2. Close the achievement gap.
  3. Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.

It is reasonable to assume that the goals he had for Connecticut 19 months ago will be goals that he will now bring to the country. Those goals, however, are “old hat” and don’t have a record of being successfully accomplished.

The goals themselves are worthy ones, but they need a new interpretation which would give rise to a dramatically new vision and radical new actions. The questions are: What would that new vision and new actions look like? And is Dr. Cardona open to that vision and those actions?

New Vision for Increasing Graduation Rate

The first step in reinterpreting those goals would be to change the term “graduation rate” to something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

Increasing the number of students graduating is now often accomplished through something called “credit retrieval”.  “Credit retrieval” allows students to make use of often dubious computer programs that, in no way, equal courses in academic subjects, yet the students get credit for the academic courses. In doing so, students increase the graduation rate for their schools but do not have adequate learning experiences.

Charter schools have another way to increase their graduation rates. They “counsel out” students who are likely to not graduate before the students get to be seniors which leaves only a pre-selected group as seniors and, unsurprisingly, they all graduate. And, lo and behold, the charter school has a high graduation rate. For example, one year at Achievement First’s Amistad Academy in New Haven, Connecticut, 25 students out of 25 students in the senior class graduated, but 64 students had been in that class as ninth graders.

With a new vision, a way to count the students who receive a high school education is to not count the number of students who receive diplomas but rather count how many of the students who begin as ninth graders complete the coursework necessary for graduation. For example, some innovative public high schools hold Saturday classes with actual teachers instead of plugging kids into computer programs. The applause should be given to high schools who deliver a quality education to all the students who begin their high school education in the school not to the schools who either give credits without the academic content and skills or who dismiss those who won’t make for a good statistic. 

With a new vision, the statistic to calculate is to follow up on the students six years after their high school graduation to see how many are employed and/or have graduated from college. Then we can know how successful their high school education was and how meaningful it was that they graduated from their high school. Increasing graduation rates, as it has been addressed in the past, gets us nowhere.

New Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap

Increasing the achievement gap is a hackneyed expression that needs a new vision. That vision begins with redefining “achievement” and redefining “gap”.  Achievement, since the publication on A Nation at Risk, has meant the attainment of good standardized test scores. 

Standardized test scores are always correlated with the income of the parents of the students taking the test. The test scores tell us nothing about the quality of the teaching and learning in the school. We can raise test scores most efficiently by getting wealthier kids into the school.

The other way to raise those scores is to teach to the test. All commercial test prep courses and online free test prep courses claim that taking those prep courses will improve test scores. And they do. They do because standardized tests measure only one skill: the ability to take a standardized test. But that is not achievement.

A new vision for learning in the 21st century can mean that students are engaged learners who are able to think critically, problem solve, collaborate with others, demonstrate initiative, speak and write effectively, access and analyze information, explore their own questions, and use their imagination as described in The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner of Harvard University. No standardized test has ever, or can ever, measure those skills.

The goal of “closing the achievement gap”, based on standardized test scores, will serve only to highlight the disparity between the affluent and the poor. Even more importantly, the goal of “closing the achievement gap”, as measured by standardized test scores, guarantees that the students who most need a quality education will be relegated to test prep in a school’s efforts to raise its standardized test scores and will continue to suffer from their lack of real teaching and real learning long after they leave our schools.

As for the “gap”, the gap that we should be addressing is not the gap between the standardized test scores of the kids in affluent towns with the standardized test scores of the kids in struggling cities, but the gap between what all kids can do before we teach them with what they can do after we teach them. We should be working our brains full-time exploring how to help each student to reach further, to know more, to try harder, and to accomplish what that student never thought possible. That’s the gap our schools should be closing: the gap between students’ current assumptions about their possibilities as thinkers and learners and their eventual accomplishments. That is a goal with a vision that is worthy of our energy and investment.

That goal can be measured by high quality, teacher-created, and externally-validated performance tasks and can never be assessed by standardized tests.

A New Vision for Creating Equity

And what are those “opportunities and advantages that children need to succeed in life”? We know exactly what they are because they are the opportunities and advantages of many of the students in our affluent, largely white schools. They are the opportunities and advantages denied to other students due to poverty and racism. The new Secretary of Education could take on these underlying problems of poverty and racism that affect children for every minute they are in school and which any school cannot prevail against without appropriate funding, personnel, academic resources, and social services. Looking at the big picture of poverty and racism with its complex causes beyond the classrooms will take vision and strong political action. It will switch the narrative from one of “failing public schools” to one of how can we adults and taxpayers not fail our public schools.

Miguel Cardona

So where is Miguel Cardona with this proposal to rethink his goals and implement the vision and actions suggested here? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will send this post to my two senators and hope that they ask him during his confirmation hearing.  I suggest you do the same with your two senators. We, as a nation, so desperately need a new interpretation of old goals and a new vision and a new plan of action for our schools. Only then can our schools be all that they are meant to be. Only then can our children be all that we know they can be.

Letter from a Teacher to the Incoming Secretary of Education

A highly respected Connecticut teacher has written an open letter to Miquel Cardona, President-elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Education, and hopes that the letter is the beginning of a state-wide effort to send a petition to Dr. Cardona about improving the teaching and learning in the nation’s schools. Here is that letter:

Dear Commissioner Cardona:

Connecticut is proud that you, our Commissioner of Education, was chosen as the Biden/Harris administration’s Secretary of Education.

Educators support your dedication to: increasing graduation rates, closing the achievement gap, and ensuring equity for all students. All educators should be committed to making these goals a reality. America’s children need and deserve this. 

However, educators also know that the regime of profit-driven standardized testing will not improve teaching and learning. They never have.

  • If educators are forced to teach to a test in order to increase graduation rates, students are merely learning how to take a test. This is antithetical to what 21st-century learning should look like: problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, project-based learning, capstone projects, creativity, and more. 
  • If schools are pressured to close the achievement gap, but their only tools are computer programs that hold students hostage to rote “learning”, then students are not experiencing rich and meaningful learning. Only 21st-century learning experiences will increase graduation rates that are credible and that actually prepare students for a growingly complex world.
  • If equity means giving students in impoverished areas less rich and meaningful learning, by continuing the standardized testing regime, the equity gap will only increase. What students in impoverished areas need is much more of what students in more affluent areas already have. Connecticut’s discriminatory per-pupil expenditure disparity tells the whole, sad story. 

Dr. Cardona, what holds schools back from making meaningful progress are ill-conceived federal mandates. These mandates have never improved the quality of teaching and learning. They never will. Test scores may have increased. As well as graduation rates. However, those are meaningless if they are not products of rich and meaningful teaching and learning. 

No standardized test can measure 21st-century skills. Hence, standardized tests cannot cultivate the acquisition of those skills.

We ask you, Dr. Cardona, to recommit yourself to the vital goals you have set by shifting the paradigm. Shift how we achieve those goals. That requires ending the testing regime started with George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (2002 – 2015) and continued with Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” (2012 – 2016).

We, Dr. Cardona, are asking Connecticut’s teachers, parents, and students to send a strong message to you by refusing the standardized testing planned for this spring.  

We are also asking all who oppose the standardized-testing regime to sign this petition, which will be delivered to you, Dr. Cardona.

We are all trying to survive a global pandemic. In my 25 years in the classroom, I have never seen my students so stressed, depressed, and anxious. It is unnecessary and insensitive to add to the weight of their mental health struggles by adding the stress of standardized testing. Also, when thousands of stressed, depressed, and anxious students are forced to take a standardized test, will the results be accurate? Were they ever really accurate? Able to capture what students know and can do? Teachers know the answer: No!

Now is the time to end standardized testing

#RefuseTheTest 

#DoNotTakeTestingToDC. 

A faithful teacher,

Jeannette C. Faber – MS, MALS, EdD

Close Connecticut’s Schools Now

Stephen Singer, a teacher, calls on Connecticut to close its schools to save the lives of teachers and to keep students and their families safe.

Hundreds of teachers have died from Covid-19.
More than 1 million children have been diagnosed with the disease.
Yet a bipartisan group of seven state Governors said in a joint statement Thursday that in-person schools are safe even when community transmission rates are high.
Safe – despite hundreds of preventable deaths of school employees.
Safe – despite mass outbreaks among students.
Safe – despite quarantines, staffing shortages, longterm illnesses and mounting uncertainty about the longterm effects of the disease on children and adults.
State Governors must have a different definition of safety than the rest of us.
The message was signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Delaware Governor John Carney, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Only Baker is a Republican. The rest are all Democrats.
We expect such blatant untruth from the Trump administration, and Vice-President Mike Pence was quick to add his voice to the septet.
But the facts remain.
More than 300 teachers and other school employees have died across the country from the virus, according to the Associated Press.
In fact, 72 school employees died of the virus in New York City, alone, according to the city Department of Education.
More than 1 million children have been diagnosed with Covid-19 according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics released Monday.
More than 250,000 people have died nationwide.
More than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease at an ever increasing rate. One million of those cases came about over just six days last week.
In many states like Pennsylvania, hospitalizations have passed their peak in April.
That is not safety.
And it is beyond reckless that these Governors would make such a counterfactual statement.
FACT: It is NOT safe to have in-person schooling in any community where infections are high.
FACT: It is BETTER to have remote education unless the virus has been contained.
But these are inconvenient truths that business leaders, politicians and policymakers are doing everything in their power to ignore.

Plan for Connecticut Schools: Do Not Reopen This Fall

The plan for opening Connecticut schools this fall is not a plan. It is an abdication of responsibility.

No 6′ distancing in classrooms required. No 6′ distancing on school buses required. No Covid -19 testing required. No funds for increased sanitizing of schools allocated. No added funds for on-site health care allocated.

Business as usual. But a pandemic is not usual.

This abdication of responsibility will put all of the people in those school buildings at tremendous risk: students, teachers, custodial staff, and administrators. And it will put the families they go home to at the end of the school day at added risk. And it will put all those with whom the family members come in contact with at their workplaces at added risk. It is an abdication of responsibility not only to the children of Connecticut but to all the citizens of Connecticut.

What to do instead?

Learning via computers should be the preferred delivery system, except when young children would be at home without the presence of adults. Of course, it’s not as good for kids as being in school as they were in the past. But the past is not the present. The present is a global pandemic.

Accepting the reality of the global pandemic changes everything.

All students in Grades 8-12 can learn remotely via computers. All K-Grade 7 students who have adult supervision can also learn remotely via computers.

The K-Grade 7 students who do not have an adult at home should be accommodated in schools. The schools would have adequate medical staff to test the faculty and staff so that the health of the adults working in the schools is assessed on a daily basis, and the children have their temperatures taken and recorded daily. It would be a controlled environment with public health as the priority. All students and faculty would wear masks and the 6′ distancing  would be strictly enforced for this group of students so that they would have some of the safety measures that their peers at home, learning remotely, have.

The less affluent communities in Connecticut would never have the funds to put the unrequired elements of masks and massive sanitizing of the schools in place and would never have the funds to hire enough teachers for classrooms to have fewer students so that the 6′ distance between students could be maintained.

If the wealthier Connecticut school districts do find the funds to put public health measures in place, the education in the schools will look a lot like remote learning: kids sitting 6’ apart, masked, staying in the same seat all day, facing straight ahead looking at the masked teacher who will be presenting information to them. No discussion groups, no interactive science labs, no music classes, no art classes, no gym classes, no socialization in the cafeteria or walking through the halls.

The American Association of Pediatricians’ statement that children should  go back to school in order to further their social development is meaningless because the public health requirements of a 6′ perimeter around each student would prohibit any social interaction between students. In fact, prohibiting social interaction is exactly the point of the 6′ rule. There can be much more social interaction in a Zoom discussion group or a group project than in a classroom with masked students sitting 6′ apart from one another.

An in-house CDC memo surfaced recently. It stated that the surest way to insure another wave of the pandemic with its increase in illnesses and deaths would be to re-open schools this fall. Schools must remain closed so that your children and all of our citizens are protected.

The one lesson that all of our students need to learn in the coming semester is this: We love you. Because we love you, our priority is to keep you safe.

If the decision is made today that students will remain home or in designated safe schools for the fall semester, teachers can. spend the next month planning how to make distance learning classes into ones that are interactive and collaborative.

We will do our best for all of Connecticut’s children by NOT reopening school buildings in the fall. Learning will still happen. Illnesses and deaths will not increase. And, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, students will learn what social responsibility in a pandemic means. They will learn how to grow into good, kind, wise adults by watching us care for them.

In The Next Phase Of The Pandemic

 

This startling fact was posted by Beth Bye, a long-term Connecticut state senator and current head of the Connecticut State Office of Early Childhood. The statistic was determined by a highly credentialed research organization

 
Preventing 10,000 deaths means that 10,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters are with their families who, otherwise, would not be, due solely to the effectiveness of social isolation. We, here in Connecticut, learn each day of one more death of someone we know, one more loss. The news of those deaths pains us, and the losses overwhelms us. It seems that 10,000 more deaths would be more than any of us could handle.  
 
We can prevent illness and death if we each commit to continue social distancing when, to aid the economy, the states lessen restrictions on social distancing although the virus will be still with us. At that time it will be up to us, as individuals, to decide how we will go about our lives. By not inviting people into our homes, by not gathering with friends in their homes, by not meeting up with others in churches, synagogues, and mosques, by not permitting our children to play with other children, by not going to a crowded neighborhood pool or beach, by not getting a much-needed haircut, by not going to a restaurant or bar, by not going to the gym, and by not traveling on planes, trains, and buses, we can save someone’s son, save someone’s daughter, save someone’s sister, save someone’s brother, save someones mother, and save someone’s father. 
 
We can save ourselves. 
 
We ARE  all in this together. Stay safe. Keep others safe.
 

 

Viewing the Video

Hello Readers,

In my most recent post entitled There Are Two Words For It: Stupid and Dangerous, if your email did not contain the video mentioned in the post, click on the title of the post, and in a minute or less, the video will appear. It is worth watching.

I can’t remember when I have used the word “stupid”. Using it in the title of a post indicates how truly awful I find the decision of the Governor of Georgia.

Ann

There’s Two Words For It: Stupid And Dangerous

We teach our high school students when they write an essay in their English class to present clear evidence for their position and to reach a conclusion that is well-founded and offers a logical plan of action.

The Governor of Georgia clearly is not demonstrating the good thinking of  high school students.  If he wrote his plan in an essay, the essay would earn an F.

Watch this video of Dr. Karla Lorraine who is so dismayed that Governor Kemp has reached the conclusion, with absolutely no evidence, that the people of Georgia no longer need to maintain any social distancing and can gather together in gyms, massage parlors, movie theaters, bowling alleys, restaurants, and on beaches.

Governor Kemp is “liberating” Georgia. He is in sync with Donald Trump who contradicted the social distancing policy of his own administration and urged Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia to “liberate” themselves and similarly open up their states.

Dr. Lorraine knows too well what will result from Governor Kemp’s plan and from Donald Trump’s advocacy to “liberate” states from social distancing:  illness and death.

Our National Shame Is At The Top

As we English teachers read great literature with our high school students, the question of what makes someone a hero frequently occurs. We question together what qualities in a person cause us to be inspired by her or him. We discuss what uplifts us about human beings and what we want to emulate in the actions of others. In every discussion about what is heroic, students bring up the idea of a hero having an individual conscience and doing what the person thinks is right, regardless of the personal consequences.

Recently, Captain Brett Crozier, the captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, was fired from the United States Navy for doing just that. He reported that 100 men on the aircraft carrier tested positive for the COVID19, and, to save the lives of the crew, the aircraft carrier needed to dock. He was fired for that action. However, the great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, for whom the aircraft carrier is named, not only supports what Captain Crozier did but also wrote that his great grandfather did the same thing. The sailors onboard the aircraft carrier were grateful to Captain Crozier for his lifesaving action and cheered for him as he disembarked the carrier. The crew sees their captain as a hero.

Future high school students will bring in the example of Captain Crozier as they analyze the motivations and actions of Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Arthur Miller’s John Proctor, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Toni Morrison’s Sethe. They will also bring in examples from the current President and his cabinet who condemn Captain Crozier’s motivation and actions. Those students will, without doubt, analyze the current administration as being totally bereft of real leadership and not possessing any shred of a moral center.

The nature of tragedy in our national life is monumentally expanded by the current President. To our devastating peril and our national shame.

President Trump is teaching our children.

 

 

The 7th grade field trip at The Connecticut Science Center was over. The bus arrived to bring the class back to their school. The kids were lined up to board the bus. Two boys, Mike and Pete, broke out of the line and, bumping into each other, ran to the back of the bus. When they arrived there, they began to argue.

Mike: Pete, it’s my turn to sit in the back seat of the bus. You had the back seat on the last field trip.

Pete: Tough luck, Misfit Mikey. You don’t get a turn because you’re a fat slob, dumb as they come, and nobody, nobody at all, likes you.

Mike stood up to push Pete out of the way.

Pete:  You touch me, Misfit Mikey, and, when we get off the bus, me and my three  friends will get you on the walk home. We’ll make you wish you’d never talked to me

Mr. Smith, their teacher, ran down the aisle of the bus and separated the two boys and began to talk to them.

Mr. Smith: I don’t care whose turn it is to sit in the back of the bus. There’s something more important going on here. Pete,  you’ve lost your chance for the seat. What’s important here is how you are treating someone else in the class. Calling someone names is always wrong.  And it’s always wrong to threaten people because they don’t agree with you. Who would do that?  What kind of a grown-up will you be if you call people names and  bully them?

Pete: Who could I be, Mr. Smith? Well, I could be the President of the United States of America, that’s who. He does that. I saw two of his tweets the other day.

One tweet said: Our case against lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam “Shifty” Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party, starts today at 10:00.  

The other tweet said: Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!

If the President of the United States can insult people in Congress and bully the one he’s the most angry at, then why can’t I?

It must OK, Mr. Smith, or people wouldn’t let him be President. Right, Mr. Smith? But what do you know, Mr. Smith? You’re a terrible, hideous teacher and everyone hates you and you dress like a dork and you can’t even run fast down the aisle of this stupid bus.

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

As the song says “Teach your children well….and feed them on your dreams.” Our children become what they see. Our children become what we dream for them.

We must dream kindness for them. We must dream decency for them, We must dream maturity for them. We must dream a President other than Donald Trump for them.

 

 

Mothers, Make A Phone Call Today

 

 

Today, let’s each of us call the office of one Republican senator and ask the question: “Why would an innocent man and you as a jurist interested in the truth not want all the evidence out and all the witnesses to testify? Wouldn’t you if you were innocent?”

Tom Friedman explains why that simple question is what we must ask now. 

For millions of mothers to ask that question now of senators will save our republic from shame and disgrace and could even save the republic itself. It can allow us to prove that we still have a government with three equal branches and that the U.S. Constitution is still the foundation of that government.

We bring up our children to tell the truth, to know right from wrong, to admit it when they have done something wrong, and to face the consequences of their actions.

We can’t hold up as role model for our children a President of the United States who doesn’t tell the truth and has made 16,241 false or misleading claims (what we moms call lies) in his first three years in office, who bribes a leader of another country with money appropriated by Congress for his own person gain and thinks it “perfect”, who has absolutely no sense of right and wrong, and who will destroy any institution in our society, such as the Justice Department, the intelligence agencies and the free press, instead of admitting he is wrong and taking the consequences.

We can’t hold up as role models for our children senators who turn a blind eye to all of this because they condone what we tell our children in wrong.

Call a Republican senator today and insist that the senator act in the way we can hold up to our children as honorable. Leave a message asking the senator to vote to call witnesses and admit documents to the impeachment hearing so that we have a fair trial, so that our government functions as the Founding Fathers intended, and so that our government functions as we tell our children is right and good.