Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Intent of the Ninety-fourth US Congress

Originally posted at

Members of the Ninety-fourth United States Congress took notice of the facts and rulings in PARC and Mills. Congressional response included an investigation into the status of all children with disabilities. After an investigation and hearings, Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, originally titled Education for All Handicapped Children Act and later reauthorized and renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004).

As noted in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News 1975 (USCCAN), Congress introduced the legislation in response to

…landmark court cases establishing in law the right to education for all children [Mills and PARC] … In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States [Brown v. Board of Education] … stated “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

The investigation yielded valuable data about the numbers of children not receiving an appropriate education. Congress found that, out of 8 million children with disabilities, only 3.9 million were receiving appropriate education. 4.25 million children were either receiving no education or inappropriate education.

USCCAN reported Congress’s findings on the social and economic costs of failing to educate all children:

The long-range implications of these statistics are that public agencies and taxpayers will spend billions of dollars over the lifetimes of these individuals to maintain such persons as dependents…With proper education services, many would be able to become productive citizens, contributing to society instead of being forced to remain burdens…

It should not … be necessary for parents throughout the country to continue utilizing the courts to assure themselves a remedy….

In 1975, the Ninety-fourth US Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Act. After several reauthorizations, IDEA now requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure that

All children with disabilities ages 3 through 21 receive a free, appropriate public education that meets their unique needs, regardless of the type or severity of their disability.

Children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment possible….

Each student with a disability is to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that describes the education and related services to be provided to that student.

Parents of students with disabilities have the right to notification, informed consent, due process, and involvement in key decisions…

Federal grants are authorized to help pay state and local costs associated with implementing IDEA mandates and serving students with disabilities.

I think of IDEA as an amazingly progressive piece of legislation which codified a 180- degree turn around in conventional wisdom regarding the educability of disabled children. It is a generally well-written act (although it has highly litigated terminology, such as what is an “appropriate” education) that ensures parents important and fair rights. However, there have been obstacles in the implementation of IDEA that I believe have kept the act from fulfilling congressional intent.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) (, whose mission is “to provide a voice in the Federal Government and to Congress for all people with disabilities in the development of policies and delivery of programs that affect their lives”, published “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization: Where Do We Really Stand?” in 2002. For this publication, NCD solicited public responses to questions about four areas identified as critical to the implementation of IDEA: eligibility and over representation of minorities; funding; monitoring and enforcement; and discipline. In the introduction NCD notes:

From the students, we hear the reality of their lives in special education. In most cases, the comments we received from them are a scathing indictment of the implementation of IDEA.

I’ve read through the public comments published in “Where Do We Really Stand,” and all of them are poignant and significant, but one stands out for me as a clear, objective summary:

The findings … were a confirmation and documentation that the statute is strong, but implementation and enforcement are thin and inconsistent. This study confirmed what children with disabilities and their families have repeatedly told NCD, namely, that too many students (1) did not receive FAPE [Free, Appropriate Public Education]; (2) were inappropriately placed in separate settings; (3) did not receive appropriate services whenserved in regular classrooms; (4) had not been able to access critical transition services and supports; (5) were not provided with related services such as speech therapy, physical therapy, or psychological counseling as reflected in their IEPs. And, (5) did not receive the benefits of procedural safe-guards and protections in evaluation in some states.

What are your experiences with IDEA? And check out the chart below that compares the yearly appropriation of IDEA funds with “full funding”. How many of the above inadequacies would be relieved by full funding?

Origins of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Originally posted at

I have the great fortune to be an education advocate for chronically ill children. It's rewarding and frustrating work that combines my public school teaching experience with my legal background as an attorney for parents of children who happen to have special needs.

Every week I talk to parents about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal laws that entitle children with disabilities to a free, appropriate public education. Most of the parents I work with have not heard of these legislative acts or want to know more about them. I look forward to helping guide this community through discussions on IDEA and special education in general. But before we get there, let's go back a few years. Just a few - because to discuss where we are, we need to examine where we've been.

Before 1975, when Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, later reauthorized and renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a child deemed "uneducable" could be (and often was) legally barred from entering public school in most states. Uneducable children were children who were - or who were thought to be - mentally deficient, "crippled," blind, deaf, "defective," "delinquent," epileptic, or "diseased" .

By the time the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted, four out of every five disabled children were denied access to education in U.S. public schools. A majority of these children were institutionalized. In New York State, children declared mentally retarded were institutionalized at Willowbrook State School, an institution located on Staten Island that gained notoriety in the 1960s for conducting a controversial medical study. In this study, healthy inmates were inoculated with hepatitis by injection or orally - by being forced to eat infected feces.By the 1970s, dire conditions caused by lack of staffing and resources led a few doctors and parents of patients at Willowbrook to picket the administration building. Their activism led the local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, to cover conditions in the institution. A few months later, a local news station sent fledgling reporter, Geraldo Rivera, to cover the controversy. Using a stolen key, Rivera brought a hand held camera into Willowbrook and filmed a video expose of conditions inside the school.

According to the New York Times' Celia Dugger:
Beginning in the late 1940's, Willowbrook offered a mean, often desperate existence to thousands of mentally retarded people. By 1962, there were 6,200 people there, 2,000 more than its capacity. The complex was overcrowded and drastically understaffed. As many as 60 extremely disabled people were packed into one big locked room during the day, for years on end, with only a few attendants to supervise.

Neglect was endemic. There were not enough chairs, so residents lay on the floor or in cribs. And there were not enough clothes, so they often wore rags or nothing at all.
Many could not feed themselves, and the shortage of workers meant residents often did not eat properly. The lack of supervision also allowed unchecked violence among the bored, despairing residents.

Conditions such as these were not unique to Willowbrook. In 1971, the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) filed a federal class action suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on behalf of mentally retarded children, aged 6 to 21, who were excluded from Pennsylvania public schools. PARC did not go to trial, but a federal trial court endorsed a consent agreement between the parties. In language later echoed by IDEA, the consent agreement stipulated that no mentally retarded child could be excluded from public school without due process and that Pennsylvania school districts had to provide these children with a free and appropriate public education.

In a second landmark federal case, Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (1972), the court entered a judgment in favor of the Washington D.C. class of children classified as being behavior problems, mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, and hyperactive, and who were excluded from school. The judgment stated that lack of funding could not be a reason for refusing service to students, a tenet which still exists under IDEA.

Parent activism, the formation of associations for various disabilities, state legislation, and landmark federal judicial decisions, including PARC and Mills, all led to the enactment of IDEA three years later. They stand as proof that action can lead to results.

As I've said, my direct experience with IDEA has been as an attorney and advocate. I'm hoping that those with diverse experiences (special education teachers, parents of children covered by Section 504 or IDEA, administrators, etc) will share their stories below, or if privacy is preferred, through a personal message. I hope to help guide this community's discussion of special education partially through the use of personal stories, mine plus those shared with me, that speak to the complexities, strengths, and weakness of special education law and policy.
Let me just close by saying how happy I am to see this community forming, and to help it along. Hats off to for knowing how to, well - org(anize) Change!

Photos: Willowbrook 1 (Source)Willowbrook 2 (Source)Willowbrook 3 (Source)
Comments (5)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bush on War Against Children: "Stay the Course"

Cross-Posted on DailyKos

Yesterday Bush helicoptered in to General Phillip Kearney Elementary School in Philadelphia to declare both Mission Accomplished and Stay the Course in the "last policy address" he will give as president. All that was missing was his flight suit as George W. Bush declared: “Now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability.”

According to Education Week's 1/8/09 piece, the goal of Bush's speech was to bolster his "legacy on education" and to urge the renewal of the souless, high-stakes corporate legislative act "No Child Left Behind".

"As president of the United States, this is the last policy address I will give," Mr. Bush said Thursday morning at General Philip Kearny Elementary School, a K-8 school in the Philadelphia district, on the seventh anniversary of his signing of the federal education law. "What makes it interesting is that it’s the same subject of my first policy address as president of the United States, which is education and education reform. I hope you can tell that education is dear to my heart. I care a lot about whether or not our children can learn to read, write, and add and subtract."

Whether children "can" learn to read and write?! Of course they can, you imbecile. But no one wants to anymore under your draconian testing nightmare that sucks the love of learning out of 7 year olds. And you "care alot"?!

I call bullsh*t. Bullsh*t, Mr. Bush. You "care a lot" about giving your acquaintances lucrative edu-biz contracts. You "care a lot" about vouchers. You "care a lot" about bashing teacher unions. But you most definately do not care a lot about children and their schooling.

In response to the thousands and thousands of real parents, educators, and students that have voiced their concern and opposition to No Child Left Behind, he throws up his middle finger and says with sarcasm:

I’ve heard every excuse in the book why we should not test—‘Oh, there’s too many tests; you teach the test; testing is intrusive; testing is not the role of government,’" the president said. "How can you possibly determine whether a child can read at grade level if you don’t test? And for those who claim we’re teaching the test, uh-uh. We’re teaching a child to read so he or she can pass the test."

Oh, Mr. Bush we progressive reformers have been bad boys and girls! How dare we question the psychological impact of taking countless high-stakes bubble tests from first grade through twelfth? How dare we question the fact that subjects not on these tests (such as art, history, creative writing) are getting squeezed out of the curriculum? How dare we demand that real educators be at the table to form education policy? How dare we suggest that teachers can use their training and experience to create their own assessments of their students' learning?! But most of all, how dare we want our children to read so that they can become creative, independent thinkers and not just "pass the test"?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seclusion Rooms, Suspension, Corporal Punishment, OH MY!

Or Why I LOVE Functional Behavior Assessments
What is a Functional Behavior Assessment? From The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice ( ):

Afunctional behavioral assessment looks beyond the behavior itself. The focus when conducting a functional behavioral assessment is on identifying significant, pupil-specific social, affective, cognitive, and/or environmental factors associated with the occurrence (and non-occurrence) of specific behaviors. This broader perspective offers a better understanding of the function or purpose behind student behavior. Behavioral intervention plans based on an understanding of "why" a student misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of problem behaviors.

I can't tell you how many school meetings I've gone to where negative behavior comes up as a topic someone at the school is chomping at the bit to discuss. And they do discuss it, often times quite rudely,inappropriately, and in great detail.

I've been there. In a classroom with 30 kids. I've gotten frustrated with students before. I can understand why children get suspended, locked in isolation rooms, paddled, and arrested, but I don't have to accept it. Not for any child. Not at any school. Special needs child, out-of-control school, urban school, poor child. Not for any child. And schools should not tolerate it.

When I ask the team at these school meetings if they've done a functional behavior assessment they usually get quite defensive, or worse, don't know what I'm talking about or tell me their district doesn't "do" functional behavior assessments. Even if the district encourages fba's (and I haven't seen this a lot in MS, TN, or AR), teachers are often reluctant to carry one out because it means documentation, observation, and paperwork and, did they mention they've had it up to here with that student?!

But teachers, when removed from stressful working conditions, really do want what's best for the child and for their classes. With proper support and training, teachers can revolutionize discipline procedures in public schools. Every school district should have in-service training on fba's and positive behavioral intervention and support and how to carry them out. Additionally, teachers should be better supported through common planning times, adequate planning time, smaller classes, flexibility to use engaging teaching and learning methods, and support from administrators. With this support teachers have the work environment needed to go beyond the behavior, get to know the student better, and prevent unwanted behavior.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What you need to know about our new Secty of Ed

Originally posted in Daily Kos

The Chicago Tribune and New York Times have reported that President-Elect Barack Obama will announce on Tuesday that CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan is his pick for Secretary of Education. Based on the comments and poll results of DKos posts on Duncan here and here, I realize that many dKos readers feel they don't know enough about Arne Duncan to form a strong opinion. Who is Arne Duncan and what has he done in Chicago?

Arne Duncan grew up in the Hyde Park section of Chicago. He went to school at The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (where Sasha and Malia Obama will attend until they move to D.C.). His father was a psychology professor at U Chicago and his mother runs the Sue Duncan Children's Center, where, according to Wikipedia , Duncan hung out and honed his basketball skills. Duncan graduated from Harvard with a degree in sociology. After four years of playing pro basketball in Australia, Duncan returned to Chicago and became Director of the Ariel Education Initiative(AEI).

After four years of playing pro basketball in Australia, Duncan returned to Chicago and became Director of the Ariel Education Initiative(AEI). AEI is an initiative run by Ariel Investments, whose slogan is "Slow and Steady Wins the Race". According to their "About Ariel" website page,

By concentrating on the long-term, our patient approach allows us to take advantage of buying opportunities that frequently arise from Wall Street’s excessive focus on the short term. We invest in quality companies in industries where we have proven expertise. And we only buy when these quality businesses are selling at an excellent value.

They must be quite busy right now.

Ariel Education Initiative grew from Ariel Investment's goal toward "strengthening the neighborhoods and cities in which we live and work, practicing a hands-on model of corporate responsibility." The jewel in AEI's crown is the Ariel Community Academy, which is
a small Chicago Public School based on a student-family-school-community partnership. The Academy model is rooted in the understanding that family and community are vital ingredients in the social, physical, emotional and educational well being of children.

From the Principal's Message one can see that the school has a progressive, process-oriented approach, in stark contrast to Chicago Public School's focus on test scores. I'd like to name the principal here, but I cannot find her name on the school's website, just her picture. Here is her Philosophy of Education:

Our philosophy is congruent with the Experimentalist philosophy which views change as an ever-present process in a student’s learning experience. Experimentalism insists that curriculum is the subject matter of social experience and instruction is a problem solving, project-oriented process. The role of the teacher is to assist and advise the student, actively participating and contributing to their learning in order to expand and discover the society they live in and share experiences together. We believe that a child’s education at Ariel Community Academy should be based on current and up-to-date research that is supported by the best teaching and learning methods. Therefore, students should be aware of their own multiple intelligences and utilize a wide variety of abilities to demonstrate what they have learned.

Despite AEI's understanding that family and community are key stockholders in children's emotional and educational well being, and despite the educational philosophy of the public school they support, Arne Duncan became sucked into Mayor Richard Daley's vision of public schools and their reform. In 1998 Duncan joined Chicago Public Schools as the Deputy Chief of Staff for CPS's former CEO. By 2001 Mayor Daley had appointed Duncan CEO.

Historically, school board members have been elected to district positions by community members. Increasingly, this democratic power has been usurped by at-large school board positions and mayoral control. When Mayor Daley took control of CPS in 1995 he radically altered the power structure of the schools and school reform, taking power away from community members, parents, teachers, and students. Mayoral control of schools has not proved to bring improvement.

As Joel Rubin, reporter for the L.A. Times writes

But Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school system, can hardly be seen as an advertisement for mayoral control of schools. After a decade with Daley in
charge, the Chicago district has failed to distinguish itself from other major urban school districts. Many of its schools remain subpar and, overall,Chicago’s students continue to score poorly on reading and math exams used to compare big-city districts. "It is hard to argue that we’re worse off than we were a decade ago, but we’re not dramatically better off either," said education consultant Alexander Russo, who has written extensively about school reform in Chicago. "If mayoral control was the best thing since sliced bread, after 10 years you would expect Chicago to have risen to the top. It is far from a magic bullet."

Tuesday Barack Obama will make his announcement with Arne Duncan at Dodge Renaissance Academy. Dodge was the one of the first school to change to a private charter school under CPS's Renaissance 2010 program. From the Chicago Public Schools website,

In June 2004, Mayor Richard Daley launched Renaissance 2010, a bold initiative whose goal is to increase the number of high quality educational options in communities across Chicago by 2010. New schools are created through a competitive, community-based selection process which establishes a set of high standards to which every new school will be held accountable. In 2005, Chicago Public Schools opened the first "cohort" of Renaissance 2010 schools.

The goal of R2010 is to close down "failing" schools, send the kids somewhere else, and reinvent the closed schools as privatized charter schools. The claim that this allows parents the choice to send their kids to successful schools has not been challenged as parents are scared to let their children travel across town through unfamiliar and often violent, unsafe neighborhoods. During Duncan's tenure he has closed many schools, with little to no support for the closed or receiving schools. Gangs from the closed schools get splintered and go into schools with rival gang members, creating an unacceptable level of violence and death of Chicago Public Schools students.

George Schmidt, founder of the newspaper Substance, wrote a commentary on crime and violence in Chicago Public Schools

"More than two years ago, as I've testified to before the City Council Education Committee, the Chicago Teachers Union predicted the increase in violence and gang problems that would result from the closing of high schools (at that time, Austin and Calumet; since, Englewood and Collins). On June 12, 2004, at 10:00 a.m.(Calumet) and 2:00 p.m. (Austin), I testified on behalf of the Chicago Teachers Union, where I was at the time director of school security and safety. We warned that the closing of Austin and Calumet would result in increased violence at the receiving schools. The same warning could have been issued in 2005, when Englewood was closed, and in 2006, when Collins was closed. Instead, the media generally hailed the closings as necessary "toughness" because the schools were slandered as "failing."

"This school year, the problems of violence are worse and earlier than in the past three years. In many cases, they are the direct result of the disruption of the city's poorest communities by school closings under "Renaissance 2010." The additional pressures on west side elementary schools caused by the closings of Frasier and Morse elementary schools is added to the community pressure caused by the closing of Collins High School. On the south side, the pressures caused by the Calumet and Englewood closings continue to hammer schools as far east as Hyde Park and as far west (now) as Bogan.

"Problems are festering or growing at every general high school on the west and south sides right now. And the cause of the increase in those problems, this year and for the last three school years, has been the school closing and "Renaissance" policies of CPS.

But have Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley pulled up Chicago's test scores? Julie Woestehoff of PURE and Monty Neill of FairTest authored the extensive "Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation" study that contrasts the success of Chicago schoools governed by parent-majority local school councils with the lack of sucess of "reform" schools.

Research on the 1990-2005 period of school reform in Chicago clearly demonstrates that teaching to the test has not produced greater learning, and more generally, that the CPS test-centered policies of the Vallas era did not work.

On the positive side, Arne Duncan was an original signer of A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. As I've blogged about before, I'm a member of BBA.
A Bolder, Broader Approach has also been busy recently, advancing its campaign by sending emails to 860+ signers of its statement. BBA's conviction is that

schools alone cannot close the achievement gap, but that school improvement must be complemented by improvements in the social and economic conditions from which children come to school -- specifically by high-quality early childhood programs, provision of comprehensive routine and preventive health care, and high-quality after school and summer programs.

This, of course, is a direct response to those in organizations (such as Teach for America) who believe that high teacher quality is the only factor necessary to get those test scores up. These groups work against teacher unions and bash many older,established teachers as being uncaring and mediocre.

BBA is now forming an advisory board and committees to help direct each of it's goals: Outreach and Recruitment (e.g., new BBA signers); Health (including school clinics); Early Childhood; School Improvement; After-School and Summer Programs; and Comprehensive and Coordinated Services.

Additionally, BBA will

sponsor a series of forums on Capitol Hill, as well as, where possible, state capitals, on various aspects of the broader bolder approach. At these forums, signers of the BBA will describe more specifically the statement's principles. We plan initially to sponsor sessions on the importance of health care for achievement, on what is known about the impact of early childhood programs, on what is known about the impact of after school and summer programs, and on how accountability policies can be sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that a broader, bolder approach can be carried out.
Our Web site ( will be further expanded, and become, we expect, the definitive resource for state and federal policymakers for research on, and solid evidence for, this broader, bolder approach.
We will sponsor a series of demonstration projects, in half a dozen cities nationwide, where school improvement, early childhood programs, adequate health care, and after school and summer programs will be coordinated to produce real outcome gains for disadvantaged children.

Please check out their website for updates!

So the question becomes, will Arne Duncan (separated from Mayor Daley and Daley's school reform agenda) lean toward the Broader, Bolder Approach and the educational philosophy of the Ariel Community Academy when he heads of the U.S. Department of Education, or will he continue the pro-privitazation/pro-high stakes testing/pro-edubiz agenda of Mayor Daley?

The Face of Progressive Education Reform

Originally posted at DailyKos

There's been a lot of chatter this past week in edu circles. Apparently our president-elect is about to announce a new Secretary of Education or some such thing? Well, two groups, The Educator Roundtable and A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education have been busy rolling out agendas for reform during this critical transition period.

The Educator Roundtable sent emails last week to all 34,186 people who have signed this petition. In it the ER called for support for Doug Christensen, former Education Commissioner of Nebraska, to get the top spot of Secty of Ed. A lot of progressives support Linda Darling-Hammond (I am one of them), but ER's thinking is that she will not be selected because she is on Obama's transition team. If that's the case, I also strongly support Dr. Christensen, an educator who has successfully fought the edu-biz agenda of the US Dept of Ed.

Also in the ER email was a letter to all friends of democratic public school reform. The letter referenced a school in Utah that asked parents (!) what they wanted the school to provide their children. The parents responded that they wanted educators to respect their children as individuals, encourage their curiosity, and help them get along with others.

To this end, a group of long experienced educators and parents have formed a coalition to introduce a higher vision of teaching, thinking and learning. We offer a framework or "skeleton" upon which each community can build.

The framework is called "Educating for Human Greatness," and consists of seven "ribs" that each community can use to create strategies for its accomplishment:
Identity, Interaction, Inquiry, Imagination, Initiative, Intuition and Integrity.

The Educating for Human Greatness group believes that the purpose of education should be to

Develop great human beings to be contributors (not burdens) to society by focusing on 7 Dimensions of Human Greatness:

Identity – Help students learn who they are – as individuals with unlimited potential, develop their unique talents and gifts to realize self-worth and develop a strong desire to be contributors to family, school and community.

Inquiry – Stimulate curiosity; awaken a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature and humankind. Help students develop the power to ask important questions.

Interaction – Promote courtesy, caring, communication and cooperation.

Initiative – Foster self-directed learning, will power and self-evaluation.

Imagination – Nurture creativity in all of its many forms.

Intuition – Help students learn how to feel and recognize truth with their hearts as well as with their minds – develop spirituality and humility.

Integrity – Develop honesty, character,morality and responsibility for self.

I've joined the Human Greatness Group and would love to hear any comments, questions, or suggestions you might have about it's purpose or the above components. Also, if you're of like mind, please join! Everyone's welcome.

A Bolder, Broader Approach has also been busy recently, advancing its campaign by sending emails to 860+ signers of its statement. BBA's conviction is

that schools alone cannot close the achievement gap, but that school improvement must be complemented by improvements in the social and economic conditions from which children come to school -- specifically by high-quality early childhood programs, provision of comprehensive routine and preventive health care, and high-quality after school and summer programs.

This, of course, is a direct response to those in organizations (such as Teach for America) who believe that high teacher quality is the only factor necessary to get those test scores up. These groups work against teacher unions and bash many older,established teachers as being uncaring and mediocre.

BBA is now forming an advisory board and committees to help direct each of it's goals: Outreach and Recruitment (e.g., new BBA signers); Health (including school clinics); Early Childhood; School Improvement; After-School and Summer Programs; and Comprehensive and Coordinated Services.

Additionally, BBA will sponsor a series of forums on Capitol Hill, as
well as, where possible, state capitals, on various aspects of the broader bolder approach. At these forums, signers of the BBA will describe more specifically the statement's principles. We plan initially to sponsor sessions on the importance of health care for achievement, on what is known about the impact of early childhood programs, on what is known about the impact of after school and summer programs, and on how accountability policies can be sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that a broader, bolder approach can be carried out.

Our Web site ( will be further expanded, and become, we expect, the definitive resource for state and federal policymakers for research on, and solid evidence for, this broader, bolder approach.

We will sponsor a series of demonstration projects, in half a dozen cities nationwide, where school improvement, early childhood programs,adequate health care, and after school and summer programs will be coordinated to produce real outcome gains for disadvantaged children.

Please check out their website for updates!

Confessions of an ex-teacher

Originally posted at DailyKos

A little over a year ago, I left the K-12 classroom. Even though I am still an educator, an education advocate for over 800 children, and an education doctoral student, I cannot be in the classroom until things change. I now work outside the public school system and with school districts to change things within the system. But I miss it terribly.

The conventional reasons for leaving the classroom (low pay, lack of resources, undisciplined students) have been over-reported and overcome by a new impetus. Teachers leave now because of the high-stakes testing environment. It's the working conditions, (stupid).

The California State University Center for Teacher Quality completed a comprehensive study of teacher retention in California's public schools in 2007. When following up with teachers who had left the profession the most frequently cited factor for leaving was "bureaucratic impediments, which

reflects a host of difficulties that are symptomatic of increasingly centralized, top-down authority structures and a heightened, and burdensome, call for accountability. Among those citing bureaurcratic impediments as a reason for leaving (57%), several common themes emerged including the problems of excessive paperwork, an abundance of unnecessary meetings, frequent classroom interuptions, and the sense that standardized testing had become counter-productive. ... the narratives from leavers point to other ways in which school bureaucracies negatively affect their work. The issue was not just the activities that interrupted their teaching, though they were distracting; the central issue was the very constraints on what they taught and how they taught it. Nearly 1 in 4 dissatisfied leavers said an overly scripted and narrow curriculum contributed to their decision to leave. The lack of local decision-making authority, an apparent consequence of increased bureaucracy and a factor we discuss in more detail below, was cited by many dissatisfied leavers. After teaching for 14 years, one teacher said this about her career and the prospects of returning to it: "I left teaching because of the testing and mandated curriculum. As long as there are straightjackets imposed by state and federal programs, I'm not going back."

Jonathan Kozol - author, educator, and activist - uses more colorful and urgent language in "Letters to a Young Teacher":

the systematic crushing of their [teachers']creativity and intellect, the threatened desiccation of their personalities, and the degradation of their sense of self-respect under the weight of heavy-handed, business-modeled systems of Skinnerian instruction, the cultural denuding of curriculum required by the test-prep mania they face, and the sense of being trapped within ‘a state of siege,’ as one teacher puts it, all of which is now exacerbated by that mighty angst machine known as No Child Left Behind.

Jack Gerson blogs on the Oakland Education Association website

There’s a lot of truth to what Kozol says. And it applies to veteran teachers, too—and even to teachers whose students score high on high stakes tests. Here’s an excerpt from an email posted recently to a national list:

"I returned to urban public school teaching last school year, after having left public schools before NCLB was authorized. The school environment and teacher satisfaction pre- and post- NCLB is like day and night. I speak not as a teacher who struggled with standardized test scores last year, but as one whose class reached 100% proficiency in reading and almost 100% proficiency in math (the one child who was not "proficient" came to third grade with a preschool level understanding of math - it’s a miracle that he scored as well as he did on a third grade math test). When the results came out my principal called me at home with the "good news". She asked me my "secret", how did I do it? Unfortunately, I wasn’t honest with her in my response, but I’ll be honest with you. I sold my soul to obtain those test results. For one hundred forty days I acted in complete opposition to my personal educational philosophy because I am a driven individual who wants to be at the top of my profession and right now NCLB defines what a "good" teacher is. It is imperative that educators take back control of our profession, redefine the goals and mission of our schools, and understand and support the means by which truly good teachers and school leaders develop."

This teacher is right. Educators don’t run public education. There’s been a hostile takeover of most of our country’s major urban school systems by the proponents of the "business model" for education—run everything by the numbers, "bottom-line" oriented. Treat school districts like corporations. Run schools as though they were "profit centers". Consider kids to be "revenue sources".

Well, I am the teacher that wrote about my experience on a list serve for Fair Test. I wrapped up the school year in May and it took me until September to climb out of the morass and be able to string a coherent sentence about the work environment at my school.

Gerson doesn't quote the rest of my listserve post, but I went on to describe the conditions at my former school (which is not and has never been a "failing" school under NCLB): an atmosphere of constant stress and fear of not making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress)on the state standardized test. It was requested that we not spend time teaching science and social studies, since it wasn't counted toward AYP. The school district had in place "formal assessments" which would "prepare" our students for the state standardized test at the end of the year. Every six weeks we had to give long standardized tests to elementary school students. The classrooms' results from the formal assessments were posted side by side in the only place we had to relax - the teachers' lounge. There were 160 standards for English for the grade I taught; 101 for math. That's about one standard (wide, sweeping goal-oriented processes) a day to introduce, reinforce, and assess.

Fair Test has a troll on their listserve (I don't know why they won't ban him)and his response to my post was this: if you were a better teacher, you'd be able to have success on the test AND teach in creative ways. That's baloney, but it is a common misperception of those who are not educators, so it is one that must be addressed. High test scores do not mean better educated children. Studies have shown that income level and the education level of the student's mother are the best predictors of test scores. In addition to those two factors, how much time the teacher spends teaching to the test is the best predictor of the results.

As I said back then and I'll say again and again: it is imperative for educators to take reclaim our schools so that our students can be students and not just a test score.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The link between Kossacks Networking and Ed Policy

Originally posted on DailyKos

I have watched with great alarm the proliferation of dKos posts about being out of work and/or without housing. Today, several diarists have written about the 533,000 U.S. jobs lost in November and the 1.9M lost this year. With things so grim, it's great that we are a part of a community like dKos where wonderful people get together and create support systems like Kossacks Networking.

This is also a chance to step back to take a look at some conventional wisdom that just doesn't connect with reality. Like the conventional wisdom in education policy that public schools need to "prepare students for the global, 21st century workplace" by making all kids take rigorous college prep courses. But are high-skilled, techno-oriented jobs 'where it's at'? Or is this CW a ploy by big biz to have a glut of skilled workers - and an excuse to outsource if schools don't adopt their agenda -in order to boost their bottom line?

According to Occupational Outlook Quarterly Job Outlook by Education 2006-2016, the occupations with the most openings projected for 2006-2016 (in order of most to least, with average education level of workers)are:

Retail salesperson (ME*)
Cashiers (HS)
Waiter/waitress (HS)
Customer service (ME)
Registered nurses (C)
Office clerks (ME)
Food prep/serving workers (HS)
Laborers & freight, stock movers (HS)
Janitors and cleaners, except maids/housekeepers (HS)
Post-secondary teachers (C)
Childcare workers (ME)
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (ME)
Elementary teachers (C)
Truck drivers (HS)
Personal care aids (HS)

(*C= 50% or more employees in the occupation have bachelors degree or higher; ME=employees have less than bachelors, but more than high school diploma, or no majority of workers are on one education level; HS = high school diploma or less)

With the highest projected growth being low-wage service jobs that do not require a college education, one wonders about the urgency to test and standardize our children to death and place them all in Algebra by the 8th grade.

Of course, the higher the number of 'skilled' workers in the pool (with Big Biz lobbying state governments for the skills they want workers to have but want to schools to train and pay for), the better the big-biz bottom line. Educators Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian call this conventional wisdom "The Jobs for the Twenty-First-Century Scam".

[Out of work Americans] should ask the Business Roundtable, Education Trust,Progress Policy Institute, and all the other outfits pushing algebra as the gateway to success why their high-skills diplomas haven't kept them from global
pirates. Standardistas continue to blather about schools preparing kids for highly skilled jobs for the twenty-first century at the same time they are outsourcing jobs faster than we can count. The truth that the corporate fat cats refuse to speak is that there are more highly skilled workers than there are jobs -- and that's the way they like it. When you have lots of people competing for few jobs, workers are scared and compliant.

All the rhetoric about 'innovative reform', 'failing schools', 'lazy teachers', and 'low expectations' has been successfully enfolded into our conventional wisdom. I believe this is true because the Business Roundtable and its surrogates have worked so hard to shape conventional wisdom, but I also believe it's because the arguments they use have grains of truth in them. We've seen less than inspiring educators. We want the best for our children. We don't want to leave any child behind. The irony is that the high-stakes environment does just that: it fails to motivate or truly educate many, many children. And the main obstacles we progressives face is that we are painted as racist or having low expectations of lower SES kids if we resist the edu-biz reforms.

So what to do? Well, we need to reframe the issues and change conventional wisdom. Development of education policy must be a democratic process that includes the voices of parents, students, teachers, community organizers, community members, and, yes, businesses, too. We need to ask ourselves: How do we envision quality education? What should the purpose of public schools be? How do schools reflect society? How can schools further our democracy? How does poverty and it's blight, violence, lack of health care access, and feelings of hopelessness interact with schooling?

I'll end with further thoughts from Emery and Ohanian :

So if 100 percent of our children pass algebra and go to college ... there sure will be heavy competition for those college-required jobs. A CEO's dream. And there are plenty of people who think that's what all the pumped-up push for high
standards and testing and raising the bar and turning kindergarten into skill-drill zones has been about from the get-go. Make kids - and future workers- feel inadequate. Make them feel they're never good enough. Convince them that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there - with everybody competing in a musical chairs game.

And consider this in light of our current economy:

The crime is not that there isn't a workforce able and willing to do thejobs that need to be done; the crime is that so many of these jobs we need to make
our country work don't come with a living wage.

I Wish Linda Darling-Hammond had said THIS

Originally posted at Daily Kos

I guess Newsweek has bought into the propaganda spewed forth by the media wing of the Business Roundtable. From the Dec. 1, 2008 magazine (found online here):

As president, however, Obama will have a chance to greatly improve D.C. schools-and, possibly, inner-city public education across the country. The chancellor ofthe D.C. system, Michelle Rhee, has proposed an innovative teachers' contractthat could allow her to reward the best teachers and dismiss the bad ones.
Educators everywhere are watching to see what Obama says and does. If he backs Rhee's proposal, he will send a powerful signal to struggling inner-city schools that reform is possible. If he fudges or says nothing, it will be a signal that little will change for the poor and mostly black children in the capital's nearly dysfunctional apparatus.

Where to begin?! President Elect Obama does have the opportunity to greatly impact urban schools, for better - if he selects someone like professor and education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond -- or for worse (if he selects someone who wants to standardize test our kids back to the stone age, bust unions, bash teachers, and privatize public schools). But is fixing D.C. schools the president's job?

Here's D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's "innovative" proposal: Current teachers must make a choice: be a "red tier teacher" at current teacher pay in order to protect their tenure, or be a "green tier teacher" in order to be paid in the six-figures, but give up tenure. Where's the money to come from for higher salaries? Private corporations and foundations. Yeah, that money should be around forever. When D.C. teachers refused to sign up for six-figure salaries and the unions protested, Rhee thought up a plan and she thought it up quick. Ask the Feds to declare a "State of Emergency" so that she can circumvent the pesky union all together.

But my favorite part is Newsweek's assertion that if Barack Obama doesn't back Michelle Rhee's agenda he is letting all poor and black kids in D.C. swing in the wind. That racist bastard!

Here's more...

The education community is badly split on the issue of how to hold teachers accountable. The establishment sees tenure as a shibboleth, teachers' only guard against politics and arbitrary firings. The reformers regard it as the chief obstacle to change, since it is next to impossible to remove ineffective teachers in almost all public systems.

Actually, the education community's split on teacher accountability involves much more than just tenure. But since they've mentioned the T word, let me say this from my experience as an urban school teacher and alum of inner-city public schools. Yes. Many urban schools have The Teacher. The one that probably shouldn't still be there. They're ineffective or worse. But all of those schools have 20-100 (depending on their size) other GREAT teachers. I am tired of the teacher bashing from Teach for America, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, the Business Roundtable and the MSM.

Finally, there's this:

Some union backers were heartened when Obama appointed Linda Darling-Hammond, a Standford professor and a favorite of the unions, as head of his transition policy task force. Reformers view Darling-Hammond as "anti-accountability"
because she is a critic of standardized testing and teachers' performance pay being linked to test scores. She has been very critical of Teach for America,the organization that sends thousands of recent college grads into inner-city schools each year. Darling-Hammond has argued that the answer is not to bring young, eager and untrained teachers into the classrooms, but rather to better train the teachers already there. "People don't want to say anything publicly, because of the 'No-Drama Obama' stuff," says one well-placed reformer with ties to the incoming administration. "But many of us were stunned that Linda Darling-Hammond is still as influential as she is. We see her as very symbolic of the 'old school' of reform." Darling-Hammond responds, "The critiques of being 'old school' are particularly ironic since I have been fighting for a lot of reforms before they were recently on the national radar."

Notice the framing of the issues here. Linda Darling-Hammond/critics of high-stakes standardized testing = union backer, anti-reformists.

Now. As for the "well-placed reformer with ties to the incoming administration". Someone didn't get the memo. See, Obama welcomes and sees the value of having multiple opinions and voices advising him. I'm thrilled. This is democratic policy formation at its best. Linda Darling-Hammond's response is good. But what I wish she had said is this:

"If 'old school' means being an actual career educator; caring about the psychological well-being of my students; wanting to educate my students without teaching to a test; improving the quality of all schools, not just charters; and reforming schools through a DEMOCRATIC process, then I'm PROUD to be called 'old school'! "

Conventional Wisdom Examined: Public Schools

Originally posted on Daily Kos

In the 1980s, corporate CEOs slowly and systematically began taking control of our public schools by pushing current major education reform known as "High Standards for All" or "High Stakes Testing". CEOs from Accenture, American Express, AIG, Exxon Mobil, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, General Motors, Morgan Stanley, and 145 other big businesses currently serve as members of the Business Roundtable, the association pushing the agenda for our public schools.
I've created this diary to examine the conventional wisdom regarding public education in the U.S., starting with this C.W.: "Businesses Know Best What Kind of Schools We Need".

The impetus for the Business Roundtable's education agenda included both the Civil Rights Movement and the weakening of the U.S. automobile industry. Kathy Emery, Executive Director of the San Francisco Freedom Summer School Program, writes in her dissertation, "The Business Roundtable and Systemic Reform: How Corporate-Engineered High Stakes Testing Has Eliminated Community Participation in Developing Educational Goals and Policies":

In education, one manifestation of such [Civil Rights] organizing was the
increase in the number of educators promoting student-centered,interdisciplinary, experiential, and multi-cultural education and an increase inthe number of school boards allowing such education into the classroom. Theseevents threatened to challenge a dominant culture and political process that wasfundamentally dependent on racism. The cultural and political challenge to thestatus quo of the sixties was made more serious by the invasion of Toyota trucksand cars. ... Corporate CEOs turned to educational reform as one of severalmeans to address the economic, political and cultural challenges of thepost-Cold War era. They did so because business leaders have always seen theeducational system as both a means to "externalize" training costs as well as a means to socialize a citizenry to support the national interest (as defined by business).

The Business Roundtable (BRT) has grown tremendously since it came to consensus in 1989 as to its educational agenda. In the last 20 years the BRT has worked to:

•Set the agenda for President Bush’s 1989 National Goals Education Summit

•influence the training of superintendents and school board members

•train people to start other organizations that push standardized, high stakes testing in schools

•create an organization that provides pro-business agenda information to the media

•seat members on the Education Commission of the States •replace school boards, or make them mayorally elected

•partner with dozens of state and national business organizations, state and federal governments, private foundations and non-profit organizations

•lobby state governors and legislators for its pro-big-business agenda •pressure teacher unions and parents to conform to their agenda

•create state-level BRTs in every state

•meet with President-Elect Obama to influence his transition teams

These just hit the highlights, but it's clear that the BRT has its tentacles in every facet of influence over education policy. As the BRT's influence grows, community, parent, and teacher influence has become almost non-existent,and our "national interest" becomes framed by failing and misguided corportions.