Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Government Charter School Expansion to the Tune of Another $245 Million

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

123rf-education-21508154The U.S. Department’s continued support of charter schools–financial and otherwise–goes unabated. Last year, it chose to give $71 Million to Ohio through the Charter School Program despite evidence of fraud and other issues. Last month it released those monies, feeling justified because Ohio lawmakers passed a bill to overhaul its charter school law…

And now comes word that the department is doling out another $245 million to eight states and 15 charter schools to expand these so-called public institutions.

Among the beneficiaries of such largess–in other words, your tax dollars–are:

  • $58,454,516 to the Florida Department of Education
  • $30,498,392 to the Texas Education Agency
  • $27,329,904 to the California Department of Education
  • $24,447,229 to the Georgia Department of Education

As for those charter schools, their numbers include:

  • $29,799,050 to the KIPP Foundation in Consortium with KIPP Regions, California
  • $6,338,769 to IDEA Public Schools in Texas
  • $4,591,801 to the Democracy Prep Public Schools, N.Y.
  • $4,043,361 to Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado

Meanwhile, to date and according to their own accounting, the U.S. Department of Education has already invested some $3 billion in charters and helping to start up 2,500 of them.

All that generosity, then, begs the question: Why not some of those dollars heading, instead, to such public school districts as those in Philadelphia and Chicago which are all but drowning in debt?

Brian A. Jacob’s Take on Student Test Scores

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

The study, “Student Test Scores: How the Sausage Is Made and Why You Should Care,” was written by Brian A. Jacob, a University of Michigan professor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. What he figured out is definitely worth noting in this day and age of school reform,  data collecting, and accountability and where teacher effectiveness is based on the standardized test scores of students:

“Contrary to popular belief, modern cognitive assessments–including the new Common Core tests–produce test scores based on sophisticated statistical models rather than the simple percent of items a student answers correctly. While there are good reasons for this, it means that reported test scores depend on many decisions made by test designers, some of which have important implications for education policy.

For example, all else equal, the shorter the length of the test, the greater the fraction of students placed in the top and bottom proficiency categories–an important metric for state accountability. On the other hand, some tests report ‘shrunken’ measures of student ability, which pull particularly high- and low-scoring students closer to the average, leading one to understate the proportion of students in top and bottom proficiency categories.  Shrunken test scores will also understate important policy metrics, such as the black-which achievement gap–if black children score lower on average than white children, then scores of black students will be adjusted up while the opposite it true for white students.

The scaling of test scores is equally important. Despite common perceptions, a 5-point gain at the bottom of the test score distribution may not mean the same thing in terms of addition knowledge as a 5-point gain at the top of the distribution. This fact has important implications for the value-added based comparisons of teacher effectiveness, as well as accountability rankings of schools.

There are no easy solutions to these issues. Instead, there must be greater transparency of the test creation process, and more robust discussion about the inherent trade-offs about the creation of test scores, and more robust discussion about how different types of test scores are used for policy-making as well as research.”

The Sorry State of Writing Instruction under Common Core

Friday, August 19th, 2016

As reported by The Washington Post‘s Jay Mathews, The Education Trust collected 1,876 school assignments from 6 middle schools in two big cities in two states to uncover how well English, the humanities, social studies, and science are being taught in this age of the Common Core State Standards.

The results, especially when it comes to writing instruction, are hair-raising. For example:

  • “Only 4% of all the reviewed assignments pushed student thinking to higher levels.”
  • “About 85% of them asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or doing author critiques.”
  • Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but those are largely surface level.”
  • “Relevance and choice–powerful levers to engage early adolescents–are mostly missing in action. Only 2% of assignments met both indicators of engagement.”


  • 18% of those assignments had no writing requirement whatsoever;
  • 60% only required a bit of note-taking, short responses, or just a sentence or two.
  • Just 14% had students write one paragraph, while only 9% asked for more.

Does Obama and the Common Core Standards he backed call this progress?

School-Wise Update: Government-based vs. Educator-based School Reform

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Business types like Bill Gates and politicians like Obama, Education Secretary John B. King, and his predecessor Arne Duncan have, in many ways, changed the face of America’s public schools by supporting…

  1. Bribery-induced adoption of the Common Core State Standards via Duncan’s $4.35 billion initial Race to the Top grant program.
  2. Common Core-related online standardized assessments resulting in scores affected by the device used–think tablet vs. a keyboard–as well as kids’ typing experience, or lack thereof.
  3. Teacher evaluations based on students’ standardized test performance, so that Teacher A with a classroom of struggling and/or special-education students faces a label of “ineffective” and could be ousted vs. Teacher B, with few such students and hence higher test scores and a bonus in the offing, as all kids must take the same test regardless of classification.
  4. Non-stop student data collection, with most parents clueless as to how it’s being used, including being shared with third-party, non-education parties.

And so on; you get the idea, but now comes Joanne Yatvin, a former educator, principal, and superintendent, offering up a number of fix-it suggestions and this caveat: “Be warned that my proposals are not only unorthodox but also teacher-biased and cheap. Well, at least cheaper than the test-drenched practices now in place.”

Here’s a sampling: (more…)

School-Wise Update: Testing the Arts

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Say it isn’t so…

Sarah Butrymowicz headlines her latest piece with, “Can testing save arts education? Teachers hope exams will make arts matter as much as math and English.” In other words, despite widespread criticism of too much testing these days–think of all those opt-out parents–the arts are next in line, so no break there either for assessment-weary students.

However, she reminds readers, “… Coming up with a uniform and efficient way to measure a subject that’s all about creativity, is difficult,” which, then, begs the question, why even try?

The answer, says Frank Philip, an arts education assessment consultant, is that “It’s very important for arts to be seen as a subject that can and should be tested. It’s a parity thing.”

You see, says Butrymowicz, “Access to arts education remains unequal” and cites a 2012 federal survey to back that up. Apparently, while about 95% of the highest-income schools offer visual arts courses, that’s true of only about 80% of the lowest-income schools.

So testing is the solution?

Fewer College Students Majoring in Education

Friday, August 5th, 2016

The message is clear: Fewer and fewer of our college students are opting for teaching careers, suggesting a dim outlook for school districts in need of filling vacancies. Indeed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment continues to rise, but there are not enough education majors in the pipeline to fill the bill. This is especially true in urban and rural settings; while, at the same time, the demand is greatest for math, science, and special education teachers.

In fact, according to NCES, the number of college students graduating with degrees in education slipped from 106,300 in 2004 to just 98,000 in 2014, nationwide. And in Pennsylvania, the findings are even bleaker. In 2013, the commonwealth awarded 18,000 teaching certificates; last year, that number dropped to t 7,180–a 61% decrease in just two years.

The decline is blamed by many not just on the fact that teachers are paid less than those in other professions, but, according to Temple University’s Gregory Anderson, the public’s “jaundiced view” of schools. As he puts it: “If I’m an undergraduate student, teaching as a profession is not necessarily one shining with possibilities.”

With teacher morale at an all-time low thanks at least in some part to the countless federally mandated education reforms these past several years, such as basing evaluations on students’ standardized test performance, along with the constant drumbeat about our failing schools and ineffective teachers, none of this should surprise.


Teacher Absenteeism Makes Headlines

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Kids are missing school in droves—6.5 million of them last year according to the U.S. Department of Education, but they’ve got company in that regard.  According to a 2014 National Council on Teacher Quality study, teachers, on average, are absent 11 days each year, with a show-up rate of 94%.

If you do the math, that adds up to a student’s being taught by a substitute 143 days—6%–of his/her  K-12 years, in school. And that’s a lot—just about one month shy of a whole 180-day school year during those 13 years.

Meanwhile, such data seems to suggest that educators are gaming the system, enjoying countless mental health days, but a closer look tells a different, oft-untold story. For starters, many absences are out of a teacher’s control and they contribute mightily to the stats. For instance, there’s…

·         Maternity Leave

·         Military Leave

·         Jury Duty

·         Funeral Leave

·         Long-Term Illness

·         School scheduled in-service days

·         Response to Intervention (RTI) sessions

·         District workshops/professional development meetings

Plus, as NCTQ points out, that 94% show-up rate “is dragged down by the minority of teachers who are absent 18 days or more.”

Put it all together–and regardless of the very legitimate reasons behind the numbers– GateHouse Media’s analysis of the data found that substitutes in the classroom are linked with lower student achievement. Moreover, their use is on the rise, last year coming in at 14.5 days a year—188 days over the course of 13 years.

And subs are costly. That same report found that, during the 2012-13 school year, 115 districts paid them $335 million; in the 2014-15 school year, 118 districts indicated they’d spent $356 million on subs.

So, now you know…

The Case for Putting Handwriting Back in the Curriculum

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Back in 2014, journalist M. English penned an article for 21st Century Media that led with the line, “When John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, he couldn’t have known he’d become a penmanship icon,” and adding that January 23 is National Handwriting Day.

And that should matter to all of us even in this keyboard-happy culture and despite the fact that it’s July not January and school won’t be in session for several more weeks.  As the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association reminds us, “The lost art of handwriting is one of the few ways we can uniquely express ourselves… Fonts lack a personal touch. Handwriting can add intimacy to a letter and reveal details about the writer’s personality. Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created monuments, and declared independence.”

These folks are talking about cursive writing although printing counts, too, and both have been on the chopping block of late in large measure because of the Common Core English/Language Arts Standards.

Introduced back in 2008, Obama’s then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dangled the promise of divvying up $4.35 billion in Race to the Top federal grants to applying states that agreed to adopt them by adding 40/500 points to their applications.

Needless to say, it took; 45 states and D.C. ultimately adopted the Common Core State Standards  which promote keyboarding skills with nary a mention of handwriting.

The upshot: Many districts took handwriting instruction off the books, despite the well-documented evidence that a direct link between cursive and the brain exists. As Sarah Sweeney-Denham, head of Plymouth Meeting Friends School in Pennsylvania, explains, “… Research indicates that cursive writing surpasses keyboarding when it comes to making practitioners better communicators, (more…)

Quotes from Sebastian Junger

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

In a piece in Time Magazine‘s June 27, 2016 issue, Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, is asked several questions by Karl Vick. One such question was, “So it’s not just service members who feel isolated,” to which the author responds: “The assumption is that our wonderful society is good for our mental health. And the fact that it’s not is shocking and also a relief to find out. I mean, why would suicide rates go up with wealth? Why would depression go up with modernity? It’s counter-intuitive, but once you think about it, once you think about our evolution as a species, it makes sense.”

The followup question, “Like Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents?” got this response: “Western society has this narrative that we’re moving steadily toward a kind of societal perfection. And in some ways we are. The improvements are amazing. But there’s this massive unseen cost, which is our sense of connectedness to the group, and that connectedness to the group has been at the core of our definition of what it means to be human for 200,000 years. For the first time in history, it’s being challenged, it’s being eroded…”

In this screen-happy, living vicariously and over-sharing just to reach out and get someone’s attention culture–even “friends” one has never met, thank you, Facebook–do you really disagree with him? Seems to me, that, nowadays and in many cases, connectedness translates to collecting LIKES at any cost from strangers and friends/family alike, and that’s as unconnected as it gets.

Better yet: Pick up the phone and talk, meet for lunch; have folks in for drinks or dinner–all so much better than posting and responding online, alone with a screen.

A Word about Millenials

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

The following insights come with thanks to Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity writing for Time Magazine‘s June 27, 2016 issue. Entitled, “What millennials already know about growing up,” she highlights findings on the university’s Sightlines Project, including:

  • “More than young people in the past, millennials have friends they count on in tough times.
  • More millennials have college degrees than do prior generations.
  • Millennial poverty is up and employment is down, college debt is more than five times what it was just 20 years ago…
  • Both home ownership and participation in retirement savings accounts… are starkly down…
  • More than a quarter of millennials report that they could not cover a $3,000 emergency, whether with their own savings or by borrowing from family or friends, and thus live day to day…
  • Millennials are less likely to be married or have children than were Gen X-ers or boomers at the same age.”

From this, Carstensen suggests, “But these habits could be the right approach for a generation that could find itself working into their 70s or beyond and perhaps never retiring. Viewed that way, living with parents isn’t a sign of failure but an adaptation to new family structures… If millennials face six decades of work instead of four, and lives that could stretch even longer, leaving home at 18 or even 22 may make little sense.”

Is she onto something? Find her conclusions reassuring or the opposite?


Physical Activity and Academics: A Proven and Positive Link

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Here’s one more reason–and a very convincing one–why parents should make their kids put down their electronic devices and get their kids moving. The research also has implications for schools and their government-sponsored obsession with data and standardized test scores that have put recess and physical education on the back burner and tech in the forefront.

You see, back on April 24, 34 international researchers gathered together for the “Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: Children, Youth, and Physical Activity in School and during Leisure Time.” Their goal:  “to reach evidence-based consensus about physical activity and youth.”

One of the conclusions they came to was that, “Physical activity and cardio-respiratory fitness are beneficial to brain structure, brain function, and cognition in children and youth.”

Talk about a wake-up call! After all, cognition is our ability to (more…)

Chronic Absenteeism: Students and Teachers, A;ike

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Sure it’s summer and classrooms are empty for now, but it’s still worth taking note that, every year it seems our kids are staying away from school in droves. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2016 update, more than 6.5 million students are chronically absent, missing 15 or more days. Reasons include:

  • Physical health and such conditions as asthma, obesity, and chronic pain
  • Mental health issues including anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, and depression
  • Perceptions of the school culture, including feeling unsupported or disrespected by teachers and/or being bullied by peers
  • Parent/family situations, such as single parents, parental unemployment, and socioeconomic status
  • Homelessness: Just 77% of such children attend school regularly
  • Placement in such protective services as foster care
  • School conditions and climate, including its heating/cooling and ventilation systems and structural integrity
  • Relationships with teachers and administrators
  • Academic engagement and achievement

As it turns out, however, they’re not the only ones not showing up, not by a long shot…

No, indeed. According to a National Council on Teacher Quality report issued in June, 2014, on average, America’s teachers miss 11 days of school each year, amounting to a show-up rate of just 94%. Then do the math, and you’ll see just how bad that really is.

Simply multiply (more…)

Actor Marlo Thomas Tackles Kids and the Scary Media Climate

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Actor and national outreach director for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital Marlo Thomas says, “Whether the story is terrorism, economic turmoil, global warming, or racial tensions, children are being raised in fear and are having an increasingly difficult time remaining, well, children. Fold in a world of bullying and the constant pin pricks of social media, and you begin to get the disturbing picture.”

She then went on to seek input from educator Michael Levine, head of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, who explains, “… Tweens today are experiencing an adult world without the life experience or cognitive abilities to process it or make sense of it. This exposure creates a ‘modeling crisis’ in which children race toward adulthood unprepared and, in many cases, damaged. This isn’t just a parenting problem but a societal one.”

Adds Thomas, “Today, the angry impulse toward division is inescapable for adults and children alike. These kids are getting it in large doses and most dramatically in this election cycle. These ‘always connected’ youth devour a swamp of low-quality, stereotypical offerings that too often conflict and may compromise children’s social relations and identity needs…”

Then she ends with with this admonition: “We as a society need to take stock of how today’s messages and programming are affecting children. What kind of world will be created by a generation of Americans seared by anger and numbed to hate?”

Do we really want to find out?

It might not be just a parent problem, since even schools are promoting electronics, but home is a good starting place. After all, the tendency to use such gadgets as babysitters may buy precious quiet time for us adults but those youngsters grow into addicted tweens and teens who even sleep with their smartphones, popping up every time it beeps for their attention, the world at their fingertips.

A brave new world, indeed.

ADHD: Why the Cases Are Doubling in Number

Monday, June 13th, 2016

In a recent article, Health Day reporter Amy Norton posited that maybe, just maybe, the global rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be due to us adults having “unreasonable expectations of young children,” just as researchers have been noting.

Indeed, by mid-2000, 58% of our littlest ones found themselves in full-day preschool programs vs. just 17% back in 1971. At the same time, their parents keep focusing on reading and number learning every chance they get.

Not so, however, in “the good old days” when it was rare for a children to be enrolled in nursery school. Instead, most spent those formative years at home with their moms, playing and honing their social skills. Such learning was then reinforced in kindergarten–and usually just half-day kindergarten, at that, with classrooms filled with role playing centers, easels, sand boxes, and even a piano.

Nowadays, though, says veteran kindergarten teacher Anne Stoudt, “Kindergarten is now first grade, and first grade is now second grade. It used to be normal for first graders to still be learning to read. Now, the handful of kindergartners who aren’t reading by the end of the year are considered behind.”

In fact, 30 years ago, just 5% of little kids could read, whereas in many places today that figure stands at 90%. Plus, most districts across the country have switched from half-day to all-day kindergarten–and add a bit of homework, too, on top of those seven or so hours in school.

At the same time, politicians across the country are calling for, if not demanding, universal preschool, but to what end? The stated purpose, of course, is so no child gets left behind and America stays ahead.

Nevertheless, the CDC is finding that about 11% of our 4- to 17-year-olds have been diagnosed with ADHD. Oh, and by the way, despite all the academic pressure imposed on our youngest and on through the grades, the Education Trust finds that just 8% of our high school seniors complete a curriculum that prepares them for college and/or the workplace…

Think this is progress? Think again.

George Will on Society Run Amok

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

I happened on a commentary in the paper written by George Will the other day, “The collapse of judgment in government.” In it, he talks about our now upside-down society and cites such incidents as New York’s City Council honoring of Ethel Rosenberg, a traitor who spied for Stalin, and the University of Georgia’s defining of sexual consent as, among other descriptors, “voluntary and creative, honest and imaginative.” Ah, the new order of things…

Later on, he talks about what’s happening in our public schools…

“A 9-year-old Florida fourth grader was threatened with sexual harassment charges if he continued to write love notes telling the apple of his eye that her eyes sparkle ‘like diamonds.’ A Texas 9-year-old was suspended for saying his magic ring could make people disappear. A young girl was sent home with a censorious note from her school because her Wonder Woman lunchbox violated the school ban on depictions of ‘violent characters.’ An Oregon eighth grader, whose brother served in Iraq, was suspended for wearing a T-shirt that depicted an empty pair of boots representing soldiers killed in action…

He went on with more examples and finally came to this: “A suburban Washington high school promoted self-esteem by naming 177 valedictorians out of a class of 457. He kept going, finally ending with this for his last paragraph: “The list of 2015 ludicrousness could be lengthened indefinitely, but enough already. The common thread is the collapse of judgment in, and the infantilization of society by, government. Happier new year.”

You’ve got to be a true optimist if you think such nonsense will come to an end any time soon.