Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stephen Colbert - Not Enough Eyebrow Raising Sir!

I'm afraid our esteemed Secretary of Spin Margaret Spellings received only a gentle ribbing at best about the No Child Left Behind Act when she appeared yesterday on The Colbert Report. She made the usual dubious claims about the success of NCLB and blustered for the 9,999th time about "all children on grade level".

Don't ya wish lightning-quick-on-the-draw Colbert, catching her off balance, had fired something like this at her?
As norm-referenced tests have given way to criterion-referenced tests, I suppose no one can really define "grade level" anymore. Even in the "norm-referenced days" when it was understood that by definition, nationally 50% of all students are always below grade level, it was an arbitrary thing.

But the absurdity stands, no matter the definition: No goal can be both challenging to all and achievable by all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Chicken Little Story

One day Chicken Little was walking in the woods when -- KERPLUNK -- a walnut fell on her head. She pecked the walnut open and inside was a note from the ED in '08 / Strong American Schools campaign.

"Oh my goodness!" cried Chicken Little. "There is a crisis in our public schools that threatens our nation's economic competitiveness! The Tests prove it! I must go tell the Congress."

Wise Old Owl was watching and wasn't fooled for a minute.

"Chicken Little, who is controlling you?" he asked. But she did not listen nor stop to think.

As she hurried on her way to the nation's capitol, Chicken Little met teacher Henny Penny and her students. Henny Penny said they were going on a field trip to the woods to learn more about the worms they loved to eat.

"There's no time for that!" cried Chicken Little. "I've received word that our schools are failing! Hurry back to class and prepare for The Tests." So Henny Penny and her little brood marched sadly back to class.

Chicken Little went on her way as fast as she could. Soon she met teacher Cocky Locky and his students. Cocky Locky said they were going on a field trip to the woods to learn about the seeds they loved to eat.

"There's no time for that!" cried Chicken Little. "I've received word that our schools are failing! Hurry back to class and prepare for The Tests." So Cocky Locky and his little brood marched sadly back to class.

Chicken Little hurried along as fast as she could. Soon she met teacher Turkey Lurkey and her students. Turkey Lurkey said they were going on a field trip to the woods to learn more about the berries they loved to eat.

"There's no time for that!" cried Chicken Little. "I've received word that our schools are failing! Hurry back to class and prepare for The Tests." So Turkey Lurkey and her little brood marched sadly back to class.

Chicken Little went along as fast as she could. Then who should appear but sly old Foxy Woxy.

"Where are you going, my fine feathered friend?" asked Foxy Woxy. He spoke in a polite manner so as not to frighten her.

"Our schools and teachers are failing us!" cried Chicken Little. "I'm on my way to warn the Congress."

"I know a shortcut to the capitol," said Foxy Woxy. "Come and follow me."

But wicked Foxy Woxy did not lead Chicken Little to the capitol. He led her right up to the entrance of his fox hole. Once they were inside, Foxy Woxy would gobble her up!

Just as Chicken Little was about to enter the fox's hole, they heard the sound of murmuring and stopped.

It was Wise Old Owl accompanied by a mass of wondrous animals of all kinds calling themselves 'We the Creatures'. The dogs chased Foxy Woxy away. How he ran across the meadows and through the forests, with the hounds close behind! He ran until he was far, far away.

"Who has been controlling you Chicken Little?" asked Wise Old Owl.

Chicken Little thought for a moment. "The ruling class?"

"Yes. Someone with connections to the ruling class dropped the walnut on your head," said Wise Old Owl. "Remember, just like Foxy Woxy, the ruling class wants to control you for its own selfish ends. I've sent word to Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, and Turkey Lurkey to resume their field trips and boycott The Tests. You must learn to think and question and so must the children in our schools."

After that day, if perchance -- KERPLUNK -- a walnut fell, Chicken Little didn't panic at all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anti-Public School Soap Opera Digest - Part 2

The Young and the Restless
The Young and the Tested to Death:

The Los Angeles Times reports that "California mandates testing every eighth-grader in algebra -- ready or not".

WHY?? Under the current oppressive regime of high-stakes testing, we are
already witnessing a great surge of demoralized, disengaged students dropping out of school altogether.

Rather than lifting children up, respecting their differences, and expanding their opportunities for success, we are severely limiting their options and opportunities, pushing many right out of school. Why in the name of kindness do we insist that all children be able to achieve the same things?

While I am no big fan of IQ testing, I wonder if those who are imposing such one-size-fits-all mandates don't need to be reminded that approximately 50% of our nation's population have IQs below 100, with approximately 23% of that population having IQs ranging from 70 to 89?

The ruling elite of the ed reform industry (and it is indeed an industry) insist on challenging standards for all. But if all could meet the same challenging standards, the standards wouldn't be challenging would they?

Children are individuals. Attempts to standardize them will crush the hopes and dreams of many. All people are of equal value but their abilities, interests, gifts, and talents vary enormously. IQ tests and standardized tests in general do not measure what matters most in life. Our nation is made stronger and better by respecting, embracing and developing the vast diversity of gifts and talents our children present to the world. I believe the maniacal "standards and accountability" movement is sending us headlong in the opposite direction.

It is wonderful that some students can excel in Algebra and higher math - thank God for them. Our world needs them and their contributions are great. No doubt some professions and fields require such skills - but only a very few. Most Americans do not use algebra or higher math in their work or day to day lives. Good basic arithmetic covers virtually all of the important day to day math skills needed by the vast majority of Americans. Am I wrong here?

Learning is good for its own sake. Learning algebra, good in and of itself, should be an option, not mandatory.

Apologies for getting on my soapbox with this "soap opera" entry. Just can't help myself and I am reminded of the following scriptures as an analogy. A footnote in my NIV Bible notes that these scriptures were apparently addressed to believers who felt that their gifts were inferior and unimportant while the more spectacular and showy gifts like speaking in tongues had been glorified in the Corinthian church. Regardless of one's particular faith or beliefs, I think this analogy works well for those of us who oppose standardization:

1 Corinthians 12: 14-26

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Anti-Public School Soap Opera Digest - Part 1

As the World Turns
As the Secretary Spins:

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings (see photo here), spins and distorts the truth about the most recent Department of Education findings, which showed (yet again) that students who received taxpayer funds to attend private schools in Washington D.C. did no better in reading and math tests than their peers in the DC public schools. Find her spin on the findings here, where she claims, "Better schools. Higher scores. And satisfied parents".

Staff at This Little Blog ask readers of Maggie's spin (linked above) to note the sudden shifting of metrics for success when private schools do not produce superior test results.

One of the hallmarks of propaganda is that those who disseminate it attribute to others the behaviors they themselves make a practice of:

We, too, must place student welfare above personal ideology.

This little blogger says it takes gall for Corporate Maggie to speak of "placing student welfare above personal ideology" when she and her corporate-serving ilk are the very embodiment of such behavior.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Anniversary of Some Words Worth Remembering

On July 12, 2006, Michael Winerip wrote his last education column for the New York Times, Teachers, and a Law that Distrust Them.

Here are some quotes from the piece that our politicians would do well to ponder:

Instead of helping teachers, for me it's a law created by politicians who distrust teachers. Because teachers' judgment and standards are supposedly not reliable, the law substitutes a battery of state tests that are supposed to tell the real truth about children's academic progress.

The question is: How successful can an education law be that makes teachers the enemy?"

...We need a No Family Left Behind Law. This would measure economic growth of families and punish politicians in charge of states with poor economic growth for minority families.

Under the No Family Left Behind Act, if states failed to make adequate yearly progress toward closing the income gap,

...the governors and legislators would be judged failing, and after five years, could be removed from office. This way public schools wouldn't be the only institutions singled out for failing poor children.

Finally, Winerip closed with a well-loved quote from William Butler Yeats and recommended it "as the official motto for a new, revitalized No Child Left Behind law."

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Marion Brady letter to Senator Obama

If by chance you have not already done so, I urge you to read Marion's excellent letter, consider signing, and forward the letter to others for their consideration. The future of America's children is at stake. Thank you!