Thursday, August 7, 2014

Child's Play vs Common Core

This story aired recently on National Public Radio. It reports on a study of children by Canadian scientists that finds that unstructured play may be more important to a child's healthy brain development than much of the highly structured curriculum being mandated in our schools today for very young children. The problem for schools is that now with the forced implementation of highly structured Common Core compliant lessons, many very young children are losing unstructured play time. The Canadian scientists believe that unstructured play with other children may be part of a genetically directed maturation process that occurs in humans that is crucial to proper brain development. The researchers believe that any restriction or redirecting of these natural developmental activities may stifle or stunt healthy brain development.

The researchers found that school systems that provide regular time for recess within the school day, had students who performed better on standardized academic tests. They concluded that the students who were allowed adequate time to participate in unstructured play with other children  seemed to have superior brain development because of the natural development of effective social strategies. The trend in the U.S. with more and more emphasis on strict academic skills, is that recess time is being shortened to provide more time for test prepping.

To further complicate the problem, over 500 early childhood educators sounded the warning very early during the consideration of Common Core that much of the material required by Common Core for very young children is not age appropriate. Many parents have complained that their children have been unnecessarily traumatized by being pushed to do school work well beyond their maturity and comprehension level.

Some educators believe that much of what is expected of young children in Common Core seems to clash with the findings of highly acclaimed French Psychologist Jean Piaget. See this article by Arthur  Getzel from the blog, The Public Educator.

The more I learn about the development of the Common Core State Standards and about the primary authors of this scheme, the more I realize that our teachers and students are being victimized by this experiment in the implementation of questionable education theories.  These self assured academics led by David Coleman have created standards based upon what they think all students should know as a prerequisite to attending college going back as far as kindergarten! They have no data whatsoever that demonstrates that these systems will be effective with all students. But as academics who will never personally have to demonstrate their theories in a real classroom, they can simply blame the real teachers when their system fails to provide the intended results. The creators of Common Core have set up a scenario where only the teachers and students can fail but the designers of the system are never held accountable. Since the Common Core is simply a set of standards and not a curriculum, the authors of Common Core can always claim that if teachers had just used the right methods and really held all children to high expectations, all students should have achieved the standards! Arne Duncan now also believes that students with all types of disabilities will thrive in an environment of high expectations and more testing.

But the most frustrating thing for experienced educators is to witness the takeover of public education in our country by these self appointed elites funded by some of the most powerful philanthropists in the world. Arne Duncan has appointed Gates Foundation operatives to top positions at the US DOE, and here in Louisiana,  LABI (the big business lobby) now directs the actions of BESE and the State Superintendent who faithfully order the implementation of the CCSS without ever once questioning the educational soundness of the program. John White is now determined that he will implement some type of Common Core testing next Spring no matter what!

I don't often agree with Governor Jindal, but I totally agree with him on this quote in today's Common Core story in The Advocate:
“Common Core and PARCC supporters are now arguing that without a test in place for the upcoming school year, teachers don’t know what to teach,” Jindal said in a prepared statement. “If Common Core is just about standards though, then why would the superintendent and BESE president be worried about one test? The answer is because it’s about curriculum. Tests drive curriculum for the school year.”
Well for once Governor, you've finally hit upon the truth!

To hear our BESE president Chas Roemer proclaim confidently that Common Core will help our children to excel and compete with the best scholars in the world makes my head spin! Roemer thinks "The biggest cancer in our state is low expectations".  He apparently thinks that children, no matter their background and innate abilities will somehow respond magically to the CCSS expectations. What an amazing scientific discovery! The ignorance of the people who are trying to run education in our state never ceases to amaze me. Does anyone really believe that Chas Roemer has any idea about what is actually contained in the CCSS? Do the big business bosses at LABI have even an inkling of what is expected of children in meeting the Common Core standards?

Wouldn't it be a scream to find out that little children actually learn more by unstructured play with other children than they learn in the Common Core pressure cooker? Of course we hasten to explain that the study referred to at the beginning of this post really just emphasizes the need for a balance between structured instruction and unstructured play for healthy child development.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Teachers Need Due Process (Tenure) Now More Than Ever

I have received many confidential emails from individual teachers over the last year expressing concern that they were in danger of losing their jobs because of pressures caused by our so called education reforms. Some teachers were being pressured to give passing grades to many students who were refusing to perform even the minimum required in the classroom. Principals are being subjected to extreme pressure to demonstrate success by all students even if none exists. They then often transfer that pressure to teachers.

One teacher wrote me that the principal in examining the teacher's grade book asked about all the zeros given some students for homework. The teacher explained that he was mainly giving credit to students who showed a sincere attempt at their homework, and that accuracy was not part of the grade. One of the reasons the teacher assigned homework was to allow students to improve their overall grade particularly when test scores were very poor. He said that students received zeros because they were refusing to even make an effort at the homework. The principal responded that the teacher had better find a way to remove those zeros from the grade book!

The above is an example of the loss of academic freedom by many teachers in today's high pressure environment. The system of accountability we have in Louisiana often has the unintended consequence of pressuring dedicated educators to show false progress. Without tenure, teachers who try to maintain reasonable standards are subject to being fired without recourse.

Another teacher wrote that she feared being fired because some parents did not agree with some of the science concepts being taught. Another teacher fears being fired because a student falsely accused the teacher of sexual molestation. Another teacher worries that a well connected new teacher wants her job. Many of these fears would disappear if the teacher was guaranteed a hearing and that legitimate evidence was required to be presented to a neutral party demonstrating the reason for dismissal. That's why teachers need tenure (which is only due process) today more than ever.

Here is a great quote I picked up today from the blog Crumudgucation:
"Firing ends a teacher's career. The threat of firing allows other people to control every day of that teacher's career."

Governor Jindal was successful in passing Act 1 of 2012 which among other things pretty much destroyed teacher tenure in Louisiana. Act 1 made it almost impossible for new teachers to get tenure and changed the tenure process in a way that removed almost all teacher protections. In fact the law so blatantly gutted due process for teachers that when the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) sued on behalf of a dismissed teacher in Monroe, a district judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it made a mockery of due process. Even before that, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers was successful in having Act 1 declared unconstitutional because it violated the rule that each legislative bill must contain only one main objective. That ruling is still being appealed by Jindal.

The above challenges by the two teacher unions eventually resulted in new legislation negotiated this last legislative session (Act 570) between the unions and the Governor to produce a new tenure law with a shortened process but that should offer teachers reasonable protection against unfair dismissal. This is an example of our teacher unions working both for the good of students and for reasonable protection of teachers.

But now teachers all over the country face an effort to strip them all all due process rights provided by tenure. And the proponents are using the excuse that the only reason for tenure is so that teacher unions can use it to protect bad or incompetent teachers.

Campbell Brown, who gained notoriety as a CNN news show host and who is the daughter of former Louisiana Secretary of State Jim Brown, has become the leader of a national movement to do away with teacher tenure. A group of unnamed rich people are funding a legal challenge to tenure in New York state with the intention of expanding their campaign to all states with teacher tenure laws. This effort has been encouraged by the recent Vergara decision in California which ruled against tenure laws in that state.

I am embarrassed to admit that Campbell Brown was born and reared in Louisiana.
Even though it is my understanding that she never attended public school and has no education credentials, she has appointed herself as an expert on the competency of teachers. Brown believes that our public schools would be better if teachers had no job protections, and could be fired at will by school administrators without the need to show any evidence of incompetence or neglect of duty.

Ms Brown who appeared last week on the Colbert Report made several highly questionable statements about tenure in New York and teacher competency in general. Here is a post by Mercedes Schneider with the interview of Brown by Stephen Colbert. Campbell Brwon also made a keynote speech at a LABI forum in Baton Rouge last year where she attacked teacher unions as defenders of incompetent teachers.

Here is an excellent fact checking analysis published in the Washington Post of some of Ms Brown's statements and assumptions about teaching that were expressed in her appearance on the Colbert report. In addition, here is a post by Diane Ravitch describing the best arguments ever for tenure. 

Most of the facts and assertions made by Brown in her interview are inaccurate. As a professional educator who has real experience in observing thousands of tenured teachers and in generally comparing the teaching profession to other professions, I must say that I am deeply insulted by Ms Brown's inaccurate and disrespectful attitude toward career teachers.

I can honestly say that even though all professions have individuals who are incompetent, uncaring and neglectful of their duty, the teaching profession in my opinion rates at the top of all professions in the dedication, commitment, selflessness and competence of its members. I believe that if we could somehow magically remove all incompetent and uncaring teachers from the teaching force, there would be little overall improvement of the quality of education, simply because the biggest problems with education have nothing to do with teacher incompetence or the negative influence of bad teachers. In fact I believe all this teacher bashing and the latest repressive measures recently imposed on teachers are driving a large number of our best teachers out of the profession. And there are very few qualified persons stepping up to replace them. I am getting reports from all over the state about the continued exodus of qualified teachers. Some local school systems cannot fill these vacancies with even a warm body. Now those trends, not tenure, will eventually adversely affect the quality of education. This is just the reverse of what the reformers like Campbell Brown claim to be doing.

If you are a teacher, I strongly urge you to become a member of one of the two teacher unions. In this day and time unity is necessary for the very existence your profession.  Teachers need to be members of thier unions just as all superintendents need to be members of the Superintendents' Association and just as medical doctors need to be members of the AMA. Don't let the detractors of unions like Campbell Brown fool you into giving up your primary protections against unfair treatment of your profession.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Two Excellent New Laws Approved Despite Common Core Hysteria

New legislation (Acts 833 and 643) Emphasize the Need for A Diverse Curriculum

Fortunately for our special needs students in Louisiana, the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities council fought very hard this legislative session and succeeded in passing groundbreaking legislation offering important new opportunities for our students with disabilities. Act 833 which began as HB 1015, will provide  many students with disabilities an alternative path to promotion and graduation based upon successful completion of IEP goals in the place of high stakes testing and standard graduation requirements. Now Act 833 requires that when certain students with disabilities fail to meet  requirements for promotion in the year prior to a high stakes test, the IEP team for the students may substitute IEP goals in the place of the high stakes tests for student promotion and graduation.

Click here for a link to frequently asked questions at the DD Council website on this new pathway to graduation for our students with disabilities.

This new law, if it is not nullified by the US DOE should allow many more students with disabilities who under old rules would probably have dropped out, the opportunity to graduate with a regular diploma and therefore benefit from continued education or improved employment opportunities.

In addition this year, the Louisiana legislature also adopted Act 643 which improves and broadens the Career Diploma program. According to the legislation and a special initiative which the LDOE refers to as Jump Start, more students will be encouraged to take valuable career prep courses starting this year. Many of these courses will be dual enrollment courses with our community and technical colleges and will lead to industry based certifications for quick job entry. This legislation offers a great alternative to the one-size-fits-all formula of the Common Core.

The need for Act 833 and Act 643 in Louisiana demonstrate why the Common Core standards are such a huge mistake. The theory of the Common Core is that all students can and should be prepared primarily for college by our K-12 schools and that the standards set in Common Core can and should be reached by all. The creators of the Common Core apparently didn't have a clue about the fact that the students we work with are not standard issue. They are all different and instead require flexible standards.

The most tragic mistake of the Common Core developers is that they did not recognize the fact that many students could be much more successful if school standards were varied and flexible to accommodate the many unique talents and interests of the full spectrum of students. Not every student can or should be prepared for four year colleges.  Other modern industrialized countries understand this fact and have provided a much more varied curriculum than the U. S. will provide with Common Core. The American public is being terribly misled by our amateur education leaders who insist that we should only set strictly academic standards for all students.  The problem is since we have a significant number of students for whom the original academic bar was inappropriate and unattainable, it is foolish to set the bar another foot higher and admonish the same students to just try harder. Such impossible and impractical goals simply sets up students and public schools for failure.

I believe that the implementation of Act 833 and the career diploma law will encourage efforts by many parents who object to standardized testing based on the standardized  Common Core curriculum as a requirement for promotion and graduation to seek alternatives for their children. The majority of states do not require the level of high stakes testing required in Louisiana as part of their graduation requirements. Now take a look at what Arne Duncan wants to do to students with disabilities.

Arne Duncan Wants to "Challenge" Students With Disabilities

This article by Peter Green of the Huffington post describes Arne Duncan's recently announced formula for addressing the needs of students with disabilities. Would you be surprised to learn that it has to do with higher expectations and more testing?

In announcing a new emphasis and "major shift," the U.S. Department of Education will now demand that states show educational progress for students with disabilities.

Here is a direct quote from Duncan about getting high performance from students with disabilities:   "We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel," Duncan said. (per NPR coverage)"

Green in his analysis observes the following: "I'm pretty sure we don't know any such thing. I'm pretty sure that the special needs students in schools across the country are special needs precisely because they have trouble meeting the usual expectations."

But wait there's more. . . .

Kevin Huffman, education boss of Tennessee (a lawyer with a Teach for America stint as his education background), also chimed in on the Duncan conference call, to explain why disabled students do poorly, and how to fix it.

He said most lag behind because they're not expected to succeed if they're given more demanding schoolwork and because they're seldom tested.

That's it. We should just demand that disabled students should do harder work and take more tests.

If you are a special education teacher, or have a child with disabilities, I hope you will read the entire Peter Green article because it gives us a look at one more absurd policy of our US Dept. of Education under Arne Duncan.

This latest Duncan initiative is an amazingly naive, unbelievably ignorant campaign for producing achievement from students with disabilities. It's simple. Just ignore the disability or the brain damage and expect the student to preform at average or above levels. Duncan is demonstrating once again that we have a total crackpot in charge of our US Department of Education.

There is not one shred of evidence supporting this latest nutty initiative, yet Arne Duncan is actually taken seriously by much of the media as a visionary leader of education.