Monthly Archives: September 2014

Weekly Roundup 9/26

Roundup6This week’s education news has an underlying theme of students, teachers, parents, and community members coming together to stand up for public education. It’s always nice to be able to bring good education news, for a change, and this good news is due to people having the courage to speak out and stand up for themselves and their schools. We hope this week provides a little inspiration for all of you.

York City Schools are being run by a state-appointed chief recovery officer, who is pressuring the school board to allow a corporate takeover of the district by one of two out-of-state private charter companies. Each school in the district, in turn, would be converted to a for-profit charter school. Pro-public education advocates, from students, to parents, to community leaders are standing with teachers and education support professionals to rally against the corporate takeover. The district has to make the decision by November, which conveniently is the same month of the gubernatorial election; current governor Tom Corbett supports the corporate takeover of schools, but he is not slated to beat Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, who has publicly denounced the corporate takeover. Read the Education Votes article to see just how York parents and teachers are working together to take a stand for public education, and to learn more about the abysmal charter school record in Pennsylvania and around the country.

As the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, teachers strike for smaller class sizes, fair labor practices, and other common-sense demands, their district leaders have hired Huffmaster Inc. to supply “replacement employees” to educate students. The company is notorious for making millions while aiding ailing school systems: they are “the company that raked in over a million dollars from the Strongsville school system last year during their teacher strike. Those fees included a ‘$48,000 hotel bill’ for the replacement teachers, and ‘more than $47,000 in rented vehicles, $50,000 in flight reimbursements and $12,000 in gas and mileage payments,’ according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Astonishingly, Huffmaster is already slated to make more than that from Reynoldsburg, which spent nearly $400,000 the first day of the strike, as the school system is contracting for “strike management” consultants who bill more per hour than the superintendent and “strike security” guards. A video clearly shows the security personnel are attempting “to intimidate local parents, children and TV film crews and to prevent them from sharing the truth.” Read the article and watch the video, and then decide if you think it’s time to stand up for teachers and the TRUTH about the current state of education in this country.

The Educationalchemy blog stands for democracy and public education, as well as the power of imagination, and looks to fight corporate greed. In a post this week, the author explores the problems with standards-based education and asks very important questions, such as “Who defines them?” and “What purpose do they serve?” There are some very important points made about the standards and how they currently are being used in education, and the blogger points to some very insightful words from pro-public education writers. This is worth a read, to put the standards back into perspective as the fight about Common Core rages on.

In a lesson in irony, hundreds of Colorado students staged a walkout to protest a “conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority.” Students don’t believe the school board should adopt the proposal, which “calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage… and don’t ‘encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.'” Read the article to see what the students had to say about the proposal while they staged their peaceful protest.

In news related to United Opt Out, a testing boycott in New York City has resulted in the City of New York dropping the tests for the entire school system. Last year, teachers boycotted the mandated test at the International High School of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. As a result, the Measure of English Language Arts Performance Assessment that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards  has been eliminated for 2014-2015. Read the announcement and a related blog post to get the full story.

We’ve been keeping you up to date on the Lee County, Florida, school district that voted to opt out of the Common Core, only to revisit the vote and reverse its decision after being threatened with a $240 million funding cut from the state. This week, Lee County is back in the news because its school board has decided to lessen the testing load for grades K-5 by eliminating the district’s 68 assessments; the 68 tests “were created by the district rather than teachers” and “did not have high-stakes consequences and were used for district progress monitoring.” The decision puts “assessment decisions back in teachers’ hands.” Read the full News-Press article.

Wisconsin has been in education news a great deal because its current governor, Scott Walker, is not a friend of public education and has proposed a voucher expansion that would cost nearly $200 million annually. Walker already “expanded vouchers by $300 million, made possible by cutting $1.6 billion from public education, the largest cuts to education spending in Wisconsin history.” Gubernatorial candidate and Walker opponent Mary Burke is saying voucher expansion is wrong and acknowledges public schools can’t afford it. Burke held a roundtable discussion with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and both women explain that voucher supporters use a “choice” narrative when discussing the benefits of vouchers, but point out that the choice that parents want is “to have choices within their neighborhood schools,” which vouchers remove. Read the Education Votes article to see the other ways Eskelsen Garcia and Burke are advocating for students and public schools.

Poverty and hunger are two of the biggest challenges facing public school students today, but it is not an issue that is making national headlines in the same way that the Common Core and ed reform are. This week, Huffington Post highlighted a New Mexico first-grade etcher who has seen too many students coming to school hungry. He starts class each morning by asking which students had not had breakfast and either sends them to the cafeteria or gives them a snack from his supply, which he pays for out of his own pocket. He worked with other school personnel to begin a backpack program to send kids home with food each weekend. Read about Marvin Callahan and all of the things he is doing to help students in the HuffPost article.

The Tide Is Turning

Teachers are notorious for being the ones who don’t want to rock the boat. They are hesitant to speak up and speak out, fearing backlash from administrators, parents, the community, and other stakeholders.

But, we teach the First Amendment in our classrooms. We teach our students to stand up for themselves and to support their ideas and opinions with what they learn. So, we must practice what we preach, if we are to be the role models and teachers that we strive to be. We are the ones who know what will and will not work in our classrooms. If people don’t hear from us, they won’t know what things are really like. If people don’t hear from us, they won’t know that we see an urgent need for change. If people don’t hear from us, they won’t know the TRUTH.

The First Amendment by Ed Uthman

Yet, the current system places “gag orders” on teachers. Yes, even in a country where ALL of its citizens are protected by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution, teachers do not have the right to free speech. As Franchesca Warren points out in “The Deafening Silence of Teachers,” the teachers do not feel that they have the ability to speak without fear of retribution: “Somewhere between the United States Constitution and modern day education reform in America, teachers have lost their ability to speak up about injustices without fear of retribution.” And, she questions why teaching is the only profession where this seems to be the case.

Warren points out what we have seen since August, when I wrote my letter to Campbell Brown about her group’s attack on teacher tenure in New York. The emails, messages, and phone calls have been pouring in ever since from teachers across the country – teachers who thank us for speaking out when they cannot. We have provided a space for anonymous submissions simply because teachers have expressed a desire to speak out without fearing for their jobs. But, we still hear from teachers who want to talk “off the record,” who don’t want to share their names, and who only want to interact with us privately because they are afraid, are being intimidated, or both.

Warren perfectly captures what we are experiencing with our followers: “there are educators who are petrified of speaking out against the wrongs we are currently witnessing in education today. To demonstrate how freedom of speech is nonexistent in some schools, walk into any school and ask a teacher to go on record to discuss the ills in public education. Instead of getting an abundance of answers you will be met with a deafening silence. Silence not because teachers don’t have an opinion, but silence because their words many times are used to hurt them professionally. Apparently, the First Amendment does not apply to teachers.” Warren describes the same problems we are seeing with TRUTH In Teaching.

She approached teachers to write about their classroom experiences, only to be told that they were too scared about upsetting their principals if they did. Her reaction? “I was floored. When did it become okay for administrators, school boards and district offices to decide what OUR truths were?” We want to know the same thing.

But, in the past few weeks, we have seen the power of teachers speaking up. Publicly. Loudly. Warren points to district administrators like John Kuhn who have had enough: read his “Exhaustion of the American Teacher.”

We at TRUTH In Teaching have been bringing you the stories of teachers like Susan Bowles and Peggy Robertson, both currently teaching while refusing to administer assessments and using social media to explain themselves.

We also have been sharing blog posts and updates from York City Public Schools, where teachers, community members, and now education activists are fighting back against Governor Tom Corbett’s appointee’s attempted corporate takeover of York City schools.

Free speech = reason = progress by Simon GibbsAnd, we have been sharing news out of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, where teachers are receiving overwhelming support from the parents, students, and community as they strike to make their voices heard.

Even more encouraging is the fact that students are taking up the charge against unfair practices and changes in the classroom. Not only are students supporting teachers in Reynoldsburg, but students in Denver walked out to protest the new AP U.S. History curriculum.

Look. Listen. Teachers are not just beginning to rock the boat. They are starting a tidal wave, along with parents, students, and community supporters. The more voices that join in, the louder we will get. There are more teachers than there are opponents.

Speak up. Join in. Send education reform, Common Core, and the people trying to silence us out to sea. It’s time.

Images via Flickr by Ed Uthman and Simon Gibbs

A Vote for Tom Corbett Is a Vote For a Corporate Takeover of PA’s Public Schools

Picture this: Out-of-state charter corporations are attempting to take over an entire city’s public school system. Every single one of the city’s public schools would be Message in Front of MPS Central Office by Light Brigadingrun by for-profit charter corporations; essentially, school boards would be “selling” the students to private corporations. This is exactly what could occur in York City, Pennsylvania, if the school board approves a takeover in November.

Two out-of-state corporations are competing to take over the city’s public schools. As the board reviews proposals from Charter Schools USA and Mosaica Education, parents, teachers, and York community members are urging York City School Board members to reject the bids. Before the board held its meeting September 17, protest marches occurred outside the administration building, with participants then attending the meeting.

In a news report by Melanie Orlins, York City School Board President Margie Orr said she welcomed the people who turned out to share their concerns because the community needs to let the board know how they feel. According to Orr, “the district is revisiting the option to go all-charter because it can’t come to a contract agreement with the teacher’s union.”

Teachers and union members, however, pointed out that the state’s education cuts harmed the students and the district and put their jobs in jeopardy. York City is just one of the districts affected by Tom Corbett’s education cuts during his tenure as governor. In fact, according to a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “the corporate takeover experiment is being pushed by the York City School District’s chief recovery officer, an appointee of Gov. Tom Corbett, who falsely claims this is the district’s only hope in the face of financial challenges.”

Teacher and York City Education Association member Clovis Gallon explained, “Governor Corbett has starved York’s public schools of needed resources, and now his appointed chief recovery officer is blaming the city’s schools for not providing children with a rich enough educational diet. What York schools really need is for state lawmakers to reverse the Corbett funding cuts.” Gallon went on to say, “Local taxpayers and elected officials should be making decisions about the education of York’s children – not an out-of-state corporation with its eye on the bottom line.”

The district is looking for an increase in academic performance, but the protesters don’t believe charters are the answer. A member of the York City Education Association, Janice Laird pointed out a problem with the charter takeover: “If a for-profit charter like Mosaica comes in like they did in Muskgon, Michigan, and comes in and walks away after 2 years from a 5 year contract, where does that leave our community, our kids?”

Another rally is planned for Wednesday, September 24 at the Hannah Penn K-8 School, as the school board will hear more information from the charter schools at the Charter School Presentation for the Community Education Council. The march will take place from 5:30 – 6:30pm, with the meeting beginning at 6:30pm. For more information, contact Clovis Gallon (clo95@hotmail.com) or Lauri Rakoff (lrakoff@psea.org).

With all of the hubbub on the political scene as Tom Corbett desperately attempts to win back voters before the November election, it is important to view the ads put out by Corbett’s camp with a critical eye. Governor Corbett has not been a friend to public education since he took office nearly four years ago. Now, he is claiming in television ads that he is not to blame for the education cuts and that he in fact has raised education funding “to the highest level ever.” Really? There clearly is a trend in Corbett’s education cuts over the past three years:

  • “Corbett takes ax to education spending: public schools face 8 percent cut and teachers would see pay freeze, with future raises tied to performance” – The Morning Call, 3.8.11
  • “Corbett cuts deep into education: Governor’s first budget chops $1 billion for schools, money for colleges by half” – Pocono Record, 3.9.11
  • “Nearly 70 percent of Pa. school districts increased class sizes, survey shows” – PennLive, 9.16.11
  • “Corbett’s Education Cuts Define the State of His State” – Democratic Governors Association, 2.3.14
  • “Survey of School Districts Says Property Taxes Likely to Keep Rising” – TribLive, 6.5.14
  • “Tepid Job Growth” – Intelligencer Journal/New Era, 9.1.14 (this article points to the loss of teachers since Corbett took office: “education cuts led to the loss of 27,000 jobs)

We have seen increased class sizes. We have seen schools cutting positions. We have seen teachers taking pay freezes. We have seen cuts to physical education, Stop School Budget Cuts by John Stavelyart, and music classes. We have seen schools combining administrative positions, leaving buildings without leaders on a consistent basis. We have seen school libraries darken their doors as librarians and library assistants are shared between several buildings or have been cut all together. We have seen these things in districts all across Pennsylvania since Governor Corbett took office.

Sadly, now we see one of the most damaging effects of the Corbett administration: a potential takeover of York City Public Schools by private corporations intending to profit from the education of York schoolchildren.

We’ve seen enough, Governor Corbett. We know better than to vote for you this November.

Images via Flickr by Light Brigading and John Stavely

Weekly Roundup 9/19

Newsletter5Wow! What a week! It seems as though every time we saw a news story about education, new questions and debates were raging about teacher tenure, the Common Core, and now AP U.S. History. There was some really encouraging news this week, in terms of support for teachers and public education and an increase in opposition to testing, standardization, and evaluating teachers using test scores. With all of the noise out there about education, don’t let these ten stories pass you by:

The fight against teacher tenure laws in New York (as championed by Campbell Brown) never was meant just for New York, as confirmed by David Boies, the superlawyer who is now the chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice. The interesting thing about Boies, besides the fact that he is not a teacher any more than Campbell Brown is, is that he helped lead a legal team that already won a Supreme Court battle to legalize same-sex marriages in California. Even more fascinating is the fact that he worked with Ted Olson and Ted Boutrous on that Supreme Court Case; and recently, Olson and Boutrous challenged and won a case against California’s tenure laws, because “the judge found that tenure laws violate students’ civil rights under the state constitution.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Boies said he is “crafting a state-by-state strategy regarding teacher tenure because many state constitutions explicitly require the provision of an equal education to all public schools.” Boies claims that arguments in state court can help get a case to the Supreme Court, and, given his continued association with Olson and Boutrous, that’s probably going to happen. But, Boies has his hands even deeper into ed reform than that. He is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, part of the national organization founded by Michelle Rhee, and he supports Teach for America. Read the full Washington Post article.

When Florida teacher Susan Bowles announced on Facebook that she would be refusing to administer the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) to her kindergarten students, she was not sure if she would be fired or not. But, she took a stand for her students and her beliefs as an educator. The good news is that not only was she not fired, but the superintendent of Alachua County schools, where Bowles teaches, sent a letter to Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart declaring that he decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. In response, Stwart has decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. Read the full article and view the letter from superintendent Dr. Owen Roberts to Alachua County parents and families in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog.

There just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium in Florida regarding high-stakes assessments. While we celebrate Susan Bowles’ victory in Alachua, we feel for the Broward County students and teachers who face up to possibly 1,500 new tests because of Florida’s requirement for end-of-course tests to evaluate the state’s teachers and determine their merit pay. A school district spokeswoman tried to soften the blow by saying the number is more likely around 800 as opposed to 1,500. The discussion surrounding the number of new tests is rich, and brings to light the fact that Governor Rick Scott signed merit pay into law years ago but recently called for a “thorough investigation” of all testing in Florida schools. Read the Sun Sentinel article and see what parents, educators, and board members have to say.

Peter Greene and his Curmudgucation blog is one of our favorites around here, and his latest post poses an excellent question: “Is Standardization a Virtue?” In this era of national standards and the push to measure education and its success, Greene worries that we are making too many compromises and losing sight of demanding excellence. In the name of standardization, maybe all we get is mediocrity. Read the post and see where you fall in the debate over standards.

Here’s an idea: Let kids choose what they read in school, and they will read what they enjoy, so they will read more. But, with the standards being ushered in, schools in large part no longer give students any choice in what they read. In a post to Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog, one-time Principal of the Year in Wisconsin and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, Joanne Yatvin explains the problem with no longer allowing students to choose the materials they read. Yatvin also describes the challenges facing schools in implementing independent reading time, as well as some of the failed attempts at SSR in past years, but points out that schools feel the pressure of cutting independent reading time because of the standards and testing. Yatvin does offer suggestions for giving students choice in reading materials and points out that independent reading is going to do more good than direct instruction and the Common Core because we won’t be “boring kids to death or persuading them that they’re dumb.” We highly suggest that you choose to read the full post to get the complete case that Yatvin makes for reading choice.

We are technically cheating with this one, because it is a Roundup itself, but Diane Ravitch is putting out a weekly Fairtest report on the nation’s progress in rolling back high-stakes testing. The school year may be in its infancy, but some progress is being made. The post also includes some commentary and editorials supporting a rollback of testing, as well as questions to ask school districts in regards to testing. Check out the report for some good news, and keep in mind just how much more work needs to be done.

Typically, we see stories about teachers readying to strike and hear about the community backlash, complete with the old “They’re overworked, underpaid” mantra being thrown about. This time, things are different in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. As the teachers issued notice that they will strike beginning today, the community is rallying behind them. Teachers are hoping to limit class sizes and stop a merit pay plan that bases teacher evaluations largely on student performance on a single standardized test. The teachers also cite “an exodus of teachers because of the board’s heavy-handed tactics and the hiring and highly visible presence at schools of Huffmaster, a firm that specializes in providing temporary staff during strikes.” Notably, the board’s tactics are being questioned by more than the parents, teachers, and community members; “last week, the State Employees Review Board ruled that the school board and superintendent have engaged in unfair labor practices by ‘posting details regarding bargaining proposals concerning insurance and compensation on its website during ongoing negotiations.’” Community members and parents have been holding rallies, attending school board meetings in record numbers, seeing the superintendent during open office hours, and spreading their message on social media. With more than 1,400 yard signs distributed, people wearing T-shirts supporting the teachers, and local businesses adding their support, Reynoldsburg teachers are so fortunate to have the support they do, as they face their strike. We stand with them, too. Read the full article and consider following the Facebook pages mentioned to show your support, too.

It’s nice to receive some validation from the public that they don’t want to see teacher evaluations based on test scores, either. We’ve seen it in Ohio and some other places where community members and parents are rallying around teachers, but a new PDK/Gallup poll released Tuesday confirms that the public is rejecting the push to evaluate teachers using student test scores. Only 38% of the public – and only 31% of parents – support using the scores for evaluations. This study also confirms a PDK poll from August that showed the public was becoming more “fed up with high-stakes testing’s impact on how and what students learn.” Interestingly, the poll also shows the public wants to see new ways of improving teacher recruitment and preparation. One other key finding that we found interesting was that 87% agree that high school students should receive more education about possible career choices, but less than 50% say a college education is very important. Read the article to get a full picture of just how much the public and parents support what is happening in public schools today.

Texas is once again forging the way with its own curriculum and tossing national testing aside (Texas still has not adopted the Common Core, either). The Texas Board of Education has approved “a measure declaring that the history curriculum its members set trumps that covered by the AP U.S. history course created for classrooms nationwide.” The board decided Wednesday to require its high school students to learn state-mandated curriculum, rather than be taught to the national test. Opponents of the revamped AP history course’s framework and test claim that it contains liberal themes and focuses too much on the negative aspects of U.S. history. The board’s decision means that students taking the course will still take the end-of-course exam, but they will prepare for it using the Texas-sanctioned curriculum. Read the article to see the full debate.

Two school districts in Pennsylvania – Wilmington Area School District and West Jefferson Hills School District – have publicly opposed the Common Core Standards. Also, Haverford Township’s school district publicly opposed the testing and curriculum associated with the Common Core. Wilmington’s resolution “states the private groups, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, spent millions of dollars advocating the new academic standards which were developed through a process ‘not subject to any freedom of information acts or other sunshine laws.” The district also is concerned about  the collection of student data under the Common Core for non-educational purposes. Read the full New Castle News article.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As our local school district prepares for a school board vote on its new “Core Curriculum,” we can’t help but wonder the cost of writing new curriculum when there are so many questions surrounding the Common Core Standards. All around the country, school districts have been making tough curriculum calls since the Common Core was rolled out five years ago. With the pressure of getting kids ready for the tests and, for some districts, getting teachers and students ready to “Race to the Top,” administrators scrambled to write new curriculum focused on the Common Core. Textbooks, workbooks, novels based on Common Core recommended reading lists, etc. were purchased, and teachers were tasked with learning yet another set of standards and yet another new curriculum.

Fast-forward five years, and school districts around the country have bought into the Bored by Gunnar Þór GunnarssonPearson testing machine: literally buying the state tests from Pearson, and also purchasing the test prep materials that are the bane of so many teachers’ existence. In our local district, the curriculum narrowed to the Common Core to such an extent that science and social studies essentially were tossed to the side in the elementary grades as more hours were devoted to reading and math; teachers were told to do the “fun stuff” after the tests. Secondary students not projected to be proficient were scheduled for double periods of English and math at the expense of art, music, and vocational courses that they wanted to be taking – not to mention the courses that ultimately could lead to their vocation in life.

Thousands of dollars were spent on substitutes so teachers could write curriculum with the Common Core at its center, and countless professional development hours were spent on “rolling it out” to the faculty as a whole and attempting to get buy-in from people who had heard the same old song and dance routine as each new set of standards had been adopted by the state over the years.

Five years ago, I was one of the lead curriculum writers, in my position as a secondary literacy coach. We scoured the standards and attempted to bridge the old curriculum to the new with some of our existing materials and to make connections between the old and new standards. We had to incorporate our administrators’ lists of best practices in instruction while sticking to the budget set by the curriculum director. We were fortunate enough to have teams of teachers helping to write the curriculum, but nobody was quite sure why we were working so hard on the Common Core when our own state had yet to adopt the standards. We were reminded to incorporate higher-level thinking skills, the “new” Common Core vocabulary, as much informational text as possible, and opportunities for practice writing open-ended responses to text. We did what was asked of us because it was a necessary part of our livelihood and because it gave us a tiny place in the decision-making process.

One main problem? There was only so much room for teachers around the table. Not everyone could be involved in writing the curriculum, so there were people who felt left out, who wanted their opinions and voices to be heard, who wanted to be part of the decision-making process before simply being handed the new curriculum binder at the start of the school year. It wasn’t financially feasible to get substitutes for all teachers, but there should have been a way to give them a glimpse at the curriculum prior to its acceptance.

The same hamster wheel was at work this past summer. Teachers were invited to participate in writing yet another set of curriculum, but the emails stressed that participation would be on a first-come, first-served basis and seating was limited. Certain teachers were contacted directly and asked to be a part of the process, which is par for the course in our local district. The administrators tend to pick the least squeaky wheels, and the ones they know will do the job at hand and not complain (at least not publicly) about what they are being asked to do. After the curriculum was completed, teachers presented it at a school board meeting (with extremely little advertisement to the public beforehand).

Before the board so much as votes on the new curriculum, binders full of it were prepared to hand out to all of the classroom teachers. Interestingly enough, itinerants were not given the new curriculum, even though their evaluations are based on students’ scores, just like the classroom teachers’. Also interesting is the fact that the curriculum never was made available for review or discussion prior to its “roll out,” meaning that the majority of the districts’  teachers were not involved in the curriculum writing process and had no idea what the new curriculum looked like until they received it in a binder the first day of school.

News of the teachers’ presentation of the new “Core Curriculum” at the August school board meeting was not well advertised, either. Scores of teachers complained that they had not known about the presentation until they saw a write-up in the local newspaper the day after the meeting. Conveniently enough, the October board meeting will take place at the furthermost high school in the district; it’s not an accident that the board will vote on the “Core Curriculum” at a building 45 minutes away from the central offices and the hub of the community.

The implications of this entire process are astounding. We realize this situation is happening in our local district, but if it can happen here, there is reason to believe it can happen anywhere.

  • The teachers who wrote the curriculum are in the unique position of knowing the curriculum far better than their colleagues. But, they also are the subject of ridicule because they aligned the curriculum with the Common Core when other teachers are standing together to speak out against the Common Core.
  • The district is using the new curriculum before the board approves it; it must be a “given” that it will be adopted, though there has been very little public discourse about it.
  • It appears as though the district wholeheartedly supports the Common Core, since they have written two sets of curriculum with the Core at their foundations. The problem now is, the state may not be continuing its support of the Core. Current Governor Tom Corbett is calling for a “review of the standards” and blames his predecessor for the standards’ very existence in the Commonwealth. Others in the PA legislature are pointing out that the governor “pushed these standards.” The debate, at least in PA, seems to be far from over.
  • School districts are spending millions of dollars on testing and everything that goes along with it, including rewriting their curriculum every time the state changes its mind about the standards. That money could have been very well spent in other places, and it is a huge financial burden that most districts can’t shoulder in the wake of slashed education budgets.
  • The majority of teachers (and parents) do not get to participate in curriculum decisions, yet they are the very people who have to face the reality of the curriculum every day.
  • The teachers who take part in the curriculum writing see it as a choice between the lesser of two evils: on one hand, they don’t necessarily support or agree with the Common Core and its associated tests; on the other hand, if they help write curriculum they at least feel as though they have some say in what they teach in their classrooms.

We feel for the teachers who didn’t get a chance to participate in the process or even see the curriculum prior to having to teach it. We especially feel for the elementary teachers who did participate in the process, only to be hoodwinked by the 17-page lesson plan unveiled at the start of the school year.

The current state of education, not just in our district but across the country, puts millions of teachers in this very same position: either teach the curriculum being handed to you and assess your students on the district’s (and the state’s) time table, or risk losing your job. Continue to jump through the Common Core/Pearson hoops, or take a stand as a group and demand a change? What are teachers to do when they are stuck between this rock and a hard place?

Some teachers are taking a stand. Some join with parent groups as in Lee County, Florida (we regret the fact that Lee County reversed its decision to opt out of all high-#IChooseToRefusestakes testing, after being threatened with losing $280 million in state funding, but the fact that parents and teachers stood together to fight the testing was a victory in itself). Some learn about the options for opting out and share the information with parents. Some refuse to give the tests. The problem is, this is just “some.” Until the majority of teachers band together, real change will not occur. What would happen if EVERY teacher refused to give the test? What would happen if EVERY teacher refused a “Common Core” curriculum? It’s a lot easier for a large group to move the rock than one or two individuals.

Student Image via Flickr by Gunnar Þór Gunnarsson

Weekly Roundup 9/12/14

“Why so many seemingly rational people want to believe that Common Core’s standards and the tests based on them are worth keeping is a subject for an in-depth psychological study,” says Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas, in an article on Breitbart.com. More on that later, but we couldn’t pass up a perfect way to summarize a selection of news that has left us reeling this week. With such strong feelings on both sides of this equation, and such a massive volume of misinformation in the media, it’s no wonder parents are confused about Weekly Roundup 4what the heck is going on with our educational system. (And they thought they were confused by their children’s math homework!)

This week, we have news related to all the key points in this ongoing debate: teacher tenure, privatization, high-stakes testing, opting out, and more. Here are our top 10 picks for the week.

There’s much to be said for authentic, person-to-person interaction that occurs in teacher-student relationships, but in all the discussion about assessments, reform, and accountability, we’re losing sight of that. Robert E. Slavin addresses this concern in an article at the Huffington Post, which reflects on a recent piece by David Kirp for The New York Times. Read The New York Times story here, and then take a look at Slavin’s take at HuffPost.

You’ve heard the argument that teacher tenure protects incompetent teachers. But it’s just not true. Well, the Wonkblog spoke with Jesse Rothstein, a former Obama administration economist and, according to Wonkblog, an expert on the quality of instruction in public schools. And according to Rothstein, the hubbub around tenure is pointless because it has little to do with student achievement and, perhaps even more importantly, getting rid of tenure could make it even more difficult to get high-quality teachers in classrooms. Read a full transcript of the interview at the Wonkblog.

Privatization of education is already happening in communities across the U.S. In Camden, NJ, a lawsuit has been filed by a group of 25 parents against the New Jersey Department of Education in response to the recent approval of two Renaissance schools, which are being funded by money that was formerly said to be unavailable. What’s more concerning, though, is that students were left crying at the loss of many of their favorite teachers — “the best ones,” as described by one student — and classrooms are left without licensed teachers or, in some cases, even long-term substitute arrangements. Read a speech read by Camden parent Carmen Crespo at a press conference announcing the lawsuit on Stephen Danley’s blog at Rutgers.

There appears to be a sudden change of heart in several governors who previously championed the Common Core, with Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Lousiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Gary Herbert of Utah, and now Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania among the ranks. The news isn’t good for opponents of the Core, though, as many of these politicians are up for reelection, are the subject of lower approval ratings in their, or may be hopeful contenders for more powerful political offices. Once again, politics is trumping our students and education, and we need to be wary of these politicians who may just be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Read the article and decide for yourself.

Is Bill Gates using some sneaky tactics to make it appear as though state governors are giving up on the Common Core? “Instead of developing stronger alternative standards in place of Common Core’s misbegotten standards, some elected and appointed officials have deliberately played a trick on all of them by keeping Common Core’s tentacles in place while they use less toxic labels to describe the octopus strangling the education system,” says Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas, on Breitbart.com. State officials are calling for reevaluations and reviews of the Common Core standards in their respective states, but all is not what it seems. It all appears to be designed as a clever plot that will, ultimately, further the Gates agenda. Read the full article here.

Tom Corbett appears to be playing right into Gates’ hand, with a recent announcement calling for a “continued public review of Pennsylvania-specific academic content in English language arts and mathematics standards from Kindergarten through 12th grade.” According to the press release, “This is the final phase in his nearly three year effort to permanently roll back the national Common Core plan implemented by his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell.” State Senator Andy Dinniman has a few things to say in response to Corbett’s seemingly sudden change of heart about standards which he has not objected to in years, conveniently timed leading up to the upcoming election. Read the response here.

Florida is making headlines again this week in terms of opting out of high-stakes testing. This time, it comes in the form of a teacher taking a stand and refusing to give the standardized test. As reported Tuesday, Susan Bowles is a teacher with 26 years of experience and currently teaches kindergarten. She has jumped through the testing hoops but drew a line in the sand this year, as the FAIR (a diagnostic test that predicts students’ success in reading) moves from a paper-pencil test to an online format. This means it is necessary for teachers of young students to administer the test one-on-one. The article outlines all of the problems with this system, but Bowles’ main issue was the amount of instructional time being lost to administering the tests – a total of six weeks. Read the article to see all of the issues and to see what has happened to Bowles as a result of her decision. You may just be surprised!

What’s the real deal with the opt-out statistics? We’ve talked about districts opting out and even parents opting their kids out of high-stakes testing, but we’ve also emphasized the importance of everyone taking a stand together as a unified force. The Center for Integrated Education takes a look at the rising numbers of students opting-out of high stakes testing in NYC, and while the numbers may be statistically insignificant, they sure are growing. “About 4,700 city students did not take this year’s English tests and 15,470 students didn’t take the math exams, according to an updated tally released by the State Education Department and the city Department of Education. The totals include 1,925 students whose protesting parents opted their children out of taking the tests, a 450 percent increase over last year,” according to the article. Still think opt-out figures aren’t significant? Read the full story at CITE.

This infographic is must-see material. “The Gates Foundation Education Reform Hype Machine and Bizarre Inequality Theory” highlights some revealing information about Bill Gates’ involvement in public education – every step of the way. Check it out at Truth-Out.org.

Peter Greene (if his name sounds familiar, you probably know him as the genius blogger behind Curmudgucation) takes a real look at whether we’re ready for a new conversation about Common Core, and education reform as whole, at the Huffington Post. “Reformsters have yet to answer some fundamental questions about themselves and their Common Core based reforms,” Greene points out. “Who are you (and your financial backers), and why should we be listening to your ideas about education? What is the basis for your ideas, and why should we take them seriously?” Until these fundamental questions are answered, Greene says he struggles to envision how to start a useful conversation surrounding education reform. Read the full story here.

Reflecting on “Overwhelmed After 13 Years”: The Effects of Poor Administration

We have received such an outpouring of support as a result of our first Teacher TRUTH! Mostly, teachers identified with the teacher who wrote “Overwhelmed After 13 Years.” We have heard from teachers who have been in the classroom for 25+ years lamenting that they, too, feel the same way this year… or have been feeling the same way for the past several. We have heard from teachers who say they wish they could share their TRUTH, too, but just can’t find the time – which is exactly the sad TRUTH behind “Overwhelmed.”

I had a different takeaway from the submission, though. I became frustrated and angry the more that I read it. Instead of saying, “I really felt that way, too,” I said, “AAAAAAHHHHHHH! Why this paperwork is big by Ashley Fisherdoes it have to be this way?”

As if all of the assessments and standards and new curriculum weren’t enough, now the administrators are piling on unnecessary, poorly planned (at least at the secondary level, where teachers already have received two different lesson plan templates), and required paperwork for their teachers. Shouldn’t the administrators want to help their teachers wade through all of the “more” instead of being the ones who are responsible for adding MORE?

But, I know the district in which “Overwhelmed” teaches. I know that when questions about assessments are asked, when questions about scope and sequence and curriculum are asked, administrators get defensive and react, oftentimes, unfairly. It is not uncommon in that district for teachers who ask questions or raise concerns to be observed several times a week. It is not uncommon for teachers in that district who try to teach in such a way that they know is right for kids to be given more duties.

And, it certainly seems that the new elementary lesson plan is nothing more than an act of retaliation against a group of dedicated elementary teachers who got together last school year on their own time to research and share resources to ultimately find a solution to all of the district’s assessments and lack of curriculum and then had to beg to be a part of the decision-making process. I was in attendance at a school board meeting last spring when the board president himself stated that teachers don’t want to take the time to help write curriculum. HA!

I also know that the majority of the supporters of “Overwhelmed” responded to us through email, rather than sharing the Teacher TRUTH on Facebook or commenting on the TRUTH In Teaching website because of these sorts of repercussions that are being dealt out by administrators. We’ve also been hearing from teachers who are reading our material and signing up for our newsletter but are hesitant to get involved with the site or on social media due to the same fears.

These facts alone should be enough to get you involved in sharing your TRUTH with everyone. Don’t forget: Teacher TRUTHS may be submitted completely anonymously, as “Overwhelmed After 13 Years” was. Your voices will help shed light on what’s really happening inside your classrooms and what you really are facing each day as a teacher during these times.

It’s a shame that this we vs. they climate exists in a district that could be so much better. So many teachers are feeling overwhelmed and inundated with MORE, when they should be feeling energized and excited for a new year with new faces before them. This is an administration problem. But, the teachers are faced once again with “making it work.” It’s time for all of the teachers who are feeling overwhelmed to stand together. Show the administration it’s not going to work this time. Show them that you can be professionals who do your jobs without handing in a 17-page manifesto each week. Show them that you are capable of doing your jobs well without the burdens of their paperwork.

At this point, you need to stand up for yourselves. A change won’t happen until people realize just how much a drastic change is needed. Email Bailey at bailey@truthinteaching.com or Angela at angela@truthinteaching.com to help by sharing your TRUTH.

Image via Flickr by Ashley Fisher

Our Kids Are Not For Sale: The Danger in Challenging Pearson

This is the first of many in our new Our Kids Are Not For Sale series. It is a sad day, indeed, when we need to come together to figure out a way to let our administrators, state and federal leaders, ed reformers, and big business CEOs know that we are not going to sell our kids to the highest bidder, in the name of education.

The Backstory

Dr. Walter Stroup is more than likely a name you’ve never heard, but it should be. In a September 3 Observer article, Jason Stanford brought Stroup’s story to light. A tenured associate professor in the University of Texas College of Education, who earned his doctorate in education from Harvard University, Stroup was celebrated by Texas lawmakers and earned a National Science Foundation grant for his work with a cloud-computing simulation designed to teach kids math. His work with the program, called the Algebra Project, was the reason UT recruited him initially. And, Texas Instruments asked him to use its TI Navigator calculator to work with the younger students who had failed the state math tests.

By 2006, he had implemented the math curriculum at a Dallas-area middle school with “impressive results.” The lawmakers and teachers were happy. But, Stroup knew that he needed to measure the improvements to show just how successful his methods had been. He used the tests available to him, the state’s math tests, but when the scores came back, the kids’ scores Math Fact Test by Judy Baxterhad risen a mere 10%. The test results certainly didn’t match what he had observed in the classrooms, or what the teachers’ expectations were.

Stroup decided to put the tests to the test. He determined, after entering every Texas student’s math score, that 72% of the test scores remained the same, regardless of the student’s grade or the subject being tested. In fact, if a math question were replaced with a science question, a student’s score wouldn’t be affected. Stroup concluded that the tests do not actually measure what the kids learn in the classroom; rather, they test how well kids can take the tests. Stroup went to the hearings before the Texas legislature in June of 2012 prepared to share his results and to testify that the state had signed a $468 million contract with Pearson to deliver the tests when all they were getting was the wrong testing tool.

As Diane Ravitch points out in her blog post, Stroup did the unimaginable. He challenged Pearson publicly, before its financial supporters and the world. Even though, two months earlier, in April, the American Statistical Association had condemned the use of student test scores to rate teacher performance because teachers account for only 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, Pearson worked behind the scenes and out of the public’s eye to discredit Stroup. According to Pearson, Stroup mislabeled a column on his spreadsheet. Stanford’s article points to a public statement by Dr. Walter “Denny” Way, senior vice president for measurement services at Pearson, that states the tests are only 50% “insensitive” to instruction. This was a glaring confession by Pearson; essentially, Dr. Way admitted that Pearson sells products knowing they don’t measure half of what goes on in a classroom.

The Aftermath

Stanford reports that Dr. Stroup’s tenure now is in jeopardy. During his Post-Tenure Review Report, Stroup was given an unsatisfactory rating. He was accused of publishing too little and presenting too seldom, but he had conducted four conference presentations, and he had done the cloud-computing work. Eventually, UT changed his rating to “does not meet expectations,” put him on an aggressive publishing schedule, and forced him to move his office three times. This all should be alarming, because the University of Texas recruited him for the very work he presented before the legislature.

The problem is, Pearson is a benefactor of UT College of Education. The Pearson Foundation created a $1 million endowment at the College of Education, which resulted in the Pearson Center for Applied Psychometric Research. Their endowment funded an endowed professorship and an endowed faculty fellowship, and Pearson seems to be funding itsMoney by 401kcalculator nonprofit through its parent company at the University of Texas, as it did in New York (and for which it was fined $7.7 million, according to Ravitch).

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharon Vaughn, the H. E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas College of Education simultaneously is consulting for Pearson Learning. Pearson also published an e-textbook written by Vaughn. Now, she’s presenting Pearson’s iLit. A webinar featuring Vaughn was moderated by John Guild, senior product and marketing manager for Pearson Lit. It appears as though UT’s Pearson Center is doing quite a bit of promotional work for Pearson, while Dr. Stroup is being pushed out of the University.

The Takeaways

I am appalled by this news both as a parent and as a teacher. At TRUTH In Teaching, we keep reading and sharing articles about how much money Pearson is making, about how politicians are getting involved in the “business of school,” about how ed reformers want to privatize public education in this country to make even more money, and the news just keeps getting worse and worse for our kids. I don’t even know where to begin with my outrage. There are so many things these articles tell me…

  • Pearson may stop at nothing to grow its profits
  • When colleges of education are in bed with Pearson, future generations of teachers already are buying into the testing culture and data reporting on which Pearson relies
  • Higher-ed institutions are under the control of big business
  • Pearson’s nonprofits and for-profits are one in the same entity
  • Pearson will admit that its tests do not test children’s knowledge, yet they continue to peddle to states and schools – worse yet, the states and schools continue to buy into the Pearson machine
  • Because Pearson knows that it is testing how well kids take a test, they sell more materials to states and schools to prepare kids to take their tests – can you say, “Monopoly”?
  • Teachers, under fire for their kids’ test scores, cancel field trips and engaging learning activities and replace them with Pearson-produced worksheets and test prep books to get them ready to take the tests
  • Teachers have to teach a whole new set of vocabulary to get kids ready for the test (conclude, passage, analyze, argument paper, etc.)

This era of business-dominated politics and education must come to an end. The days of subjecting students to testing that does not measure anything of value must stop. Pearson is attempting to buy education, and state legislatures are allowing it to happen.

Go to school board meetings. Talk to other teachers. Learn about opting out. No matter how we do it, we need to let all of the decision makers know Our Kids Are Not For Sale!

Test Image via Flickr by Judy Baxter
Money Image via Flickr by 401kcalculator

Modeling Is a Must For Creating a Culture of Learning

I don’t often wear my mom hat and teacher hat at the same time anymore, but I did last night. My five year old is not yet in kindergarten; between his summer birthday, his anxiety in preschool, and a speech delay, we decided to delay his start and sent him to preschool for a second year. He now attends preK and, for the most part, is thriving. It was the best decision we ever have made.

But, he doesn’t always thrive at home with his mother who just so happens to be a teacher. There are a few reasons for this: we both are perfectionists, we both are stubborn, we both are Type A personalities, we both interrupt one another, and we both think the other one is wrong much of the time. While this is far from a recipe for success, we make it work. We make plans before attempting to work together on arts and crafts or learning letters and numbers or writing. We decide who is going to do which job, and we often take turns. And, we know how to tell each other when we need a short break.

Honestly, I think our problems when working together on tasks that require his focus and concentration and my patience and understanding actually stemmed from my role as a secondary teacher. I know a lot more about older minds than younger minds, and I certainly don’t know what to do frustration by horizontal.integrationwith a kid who barely grasps sight words. I fall into that old secondary teacher assumption that the kid already should know how to do this stuff. So, we often end up more frustrated than anything when completing our shared tasks.

Or, we used to end up more frustrated than anything, until I remembered the number one rule for teachers: model first. I don’t know if I forgot this rule because I considered the tasks to be simple enough for him to do without any modeling from me, or if I really do separate my teacher self from my mom self, and thus allowed all of my classroom know-how to sit on the back burner when working with my own child. In any event, we had a breakthrough last night when making Grandparents Day cards because I used the modeling strategy.

Modeling is so simple. Yet, there are scores of teachers who don’t do it often enough because they think they shouldn’t have to. I can attest to this from my year as an instructional coach, and in my experience, secondary teachers were the most hesitant to model. In fact, many secondary teachers seem to believe what I did: they already should know that, so I can teach them this. While that may be true, and we wish students would have learned the concepts and skills prior to entering our rooms to learn our content and curriculum, that’s not always the case. Often, it’s far from it. We need to meet the kids where they are, and that means we have to understand that they may not be defying us or being lazy: they truly may not know where to begin.

After eleven years in a secondary classroom, I cannot think of a better instructional strategy than modeling. Instead of telling kids what we want them to do, as I had been doing with my son, we must show them what to do. As the stakes get higher for our students and ourselves, modeling is going to be a necessity.

The Common Core Standards have shifted skills and concepts and vocabulary from upper grades into lower grades at lightning-fast speed. That’s just one of the issues with the Common Core. Another issue, especially pertinent to English and social studies classes, is the complexity of the texts students are reading as a result of the Common Core. Kids’ reading levels don’t magically increase just because we put higher-level texts in front of them. As a result, these kids may not know enough reading strategies to get through the texts; we need to show them. (You may want to read “Common Core: Will it hurt struggling readers?” for more on this issue.) Math teachers face a similar challenge, as higher-level Algebra II and Geometry concepts and skills make their way into Algebra I.

If you’re unfamiliar with modeling, it is a teaching strategy in which the teacher does most of the work first. The goal is to use modeling in a scaffolded manner: move from the teacher does, to the teacher and students do, to the students do (often referred to as I Do, We Do, You Do). I paired modeling with thinking aloud, so that students could hear my thoughts while I First grade reading by woodleywonderworksworked through the concept or skill; this explicit teaching was most effective. My monologue was just as important for the auditory learners as my actions were for the visual learners.

I also incorporated a component for the kinesthetic learners so the kids could put my instruction to the test; this signaled the beginning of We Do, and the students knew that they could begin working with partners, or in small groups, and that I was nearby to help them. I also firmly believe in “teachable moments,” so if I saw students completing a task in a unique way, I’d direct the class’s attention to that group, which would take a turn at being the “sage on the stage” and explain what they were doing to the entire class; this provided another We Do moment, but this time, it came from the students’ perspectives. On the other hand, I also could stop everyone and go back to I Do if I saw that they weren’t ready for the We Do yet.

Does modeling take more time? Yes. Do you need to prepare to spend a day or two on We Do before giving students independent work or practice time? More than likely. But, the benefits far outweigh the time spent because you’ll find students collaborating more and relying less on you. You will be able to front load your instruction with an I-Do format for all students first. Then, you will have the opportunity to interact even more with students while you work your way through the We Do; formative assessment is key here, as you move about the room to see where the partners/groups are in their work and which skills/concepts require a little more time. Finally, when the majority of the students are ready, you can set them loose on their You Do tasks and assignments, and you will be able to spend more time with the kids who need more support in the We Do phase.

Modeling resources from around the web:

Now, for the bad news about modeling. Your administrators may ask what’s taking you so long to get through your curriculum and the standards. But, if you’re in front of those students to help them learn, rather than to show them how to pass a test, you have a great reason: you’re modeling and meeting the students where they are, and you are providing support for the students who need it while allowing other students to work more independently.

The Common Core and Pearson may want you to focus on test prep, but if you are in the “business” of teaching to teach, and you want to inspire learners instead of create test takers, modeling is a strategy you need to adopt, if you haven’t already. Don’t frustrate your students as I frustrated my son: show them what to do and then support them as needed until they are able to do it on their own.

Frustrated child image via Flickr by horizon.integration
Classroom image via Flickr by woodleywonderworks

Weekly Roundup 9/5/14

Roundup3A short school week, thanks to Labor Day weekend, didn’t mean a lack of education news. The Common Core, big business, and leadership are the main topics of our picks for the week. With our Weekly Roundup, we bring to you the good, the bad, and the ugly of education-related news stories that grab our attention. This week’s 10 articles are listed below, in no particular order.
*FYI – Newsletter subscribers have the advantage of receiving our top news picks sooner than they will appear in the Weekly Roundup.*

All eyes were on the new NEA president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, as she took the reins on Labor Day. She claims her top priority is to “roll back standardized testing before it does more damage than good,” and NEA has been critical of the Obama administration’s support of using test scores to evaluate teachers. After her visit with Obama over the weekend, Garcia spoke with NPR Ed about that meeting and her other concerns regarding education. Read the compete NPR Q&A and get to know the new president.

Now that September is here, all eyes are on the November elections. Never before has an election ever been as high stakes for students, parents, and education as it is right now. The seats of 36 governors, 6,048 legislators, 31 state attorney generals, and 468 members of the U.S. Congress are up for election. Let’s face it: education voters did not do well in the 2010 midterm elections, which allowed too many candidates who put corporations and CEOs ahead of students to be elected. And, governors like Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, and Kansas’ Sam Brownback slashed education budgets after they entered office; unfortunately, “similar scenarios played out across the country after the 2010 elections.” Education voters, teachers, parents, and everyone else who cares more about the state of public education than lining wealthy business’ pockets must vote for the right candidates this fall. The Education Votes article explains exactly what is at stake if we don’t.

If you read the Education Votes article listed above, you may be interested in seeing how your state compares to those mentioned. Now you can, because earlier this week, the Huffington Post put out an overview of how the Common Core is playing out across the US. Each state is briefly described, and most descriptions include information about the governors and other legislators who are influencing the discussion. It’s very interesting to see how the states are reacting to the “national” standards.

Fred Klonsky is a retired public school teacher who blogs about testing data and education-related issues. Klonsky frequently has Bev Johns, a special education advocate and activist, serve as a guest blogger, and her latest post is magnificent. Remember when NCLB required all students to be proficient on state tests by 2014?  Well, it’s 2014. Nobody expected this dream to become a reality, and the failure of public schools to reach that goal has been translated to the failure of public education as a whole. However, Arne Duncan is perpetuating the nonsense by seeking “to require ALL students with disabilities to demonstrate proficiency or advanced mastery of challenging subject matter on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.” Johns, of course, is concerned about what this means for the future of special education because regular education students have not been close to achieving Duncan’s goal. Will this mean that special ed will also be “deemed an utter failure”? Johns especially is concerned that RTI/MTSS and full inclusion for all will be the result. Included in the post are portions of a 3-page letter from all 8 Republicans on the U.S. Senate education committee to Duncan, detailing questions about his special ed and Results Driven Accountability. Read the entire blog post and consider Johns’ points and questions for yourself.

Monday, we published a blog post warning teachers and parents not to allow school districts to “sell” your kids as news on the hearings for Ohio House Bill 597 heated up to the point that a businessman with Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce was quoted as saying “students are the educational product … going through the education system so that they can be an attractive product for business to consume…” Basically, ed reformers/businesses hope to get even wealthier at the expense of our children and America’s public schools. As the fight to repeal the Common Core standards gets more interesting in Ohio, Republican Rep. Andy Thompson says it’s kind of “creepy the way this whole thing landed in Ohio with all the things prepackaged.” An AP article by Kimberly Hefling offers a wonderful overview of the fight in Ohio, with comments like the one from Thompson, as well as those from parents and educators, and describes how other states are pushing back against the standards as well. Read the full article here.

While some government leaders and citizens starting to see exactly how big businesses and ed reformers are attempting to take over education, other organizations are clearly showing just how strong the push is to privatize our public schools. A new report from GEMS Education Solutions, an education consulting firm, released its “Efficiency Index” and an accompanying report Thursday. Basically, they ranked the return on investment for 30 different nations’ education budgets: according to the report, the index “treats the educational system as if it were a company which attempts to obtain an output.” That statement, in itself, should be enough to send up everyone’s red flags. As soon as we talk about return on investment and output, we are talking about a BUSINESS. We start looking at students as cogs on an assembly line and teachers as factory workers. Even more disturbing? The report says that in order for the U.S. to become more efficient, we would “need to increase class sizes and reduce teacher salaries.” If you haven’t yet seen the writing on the wall about the state of education in this country, read the full article.

Continuing with our business theme, this article explains how Peter Cunningham, “the former communications guru for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan” is leading an organization that has received initial grants totaling $12 million from the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor to “encourage a more ‘respectful’ and fact-based national discussion about the challenges of public education, and possible solutions.” On its face, Education Post’s mission sounds delightful. Delve a little deeper, and you see that one of its originators, Bruce Reed (president of the Broad Foundation) wants to “help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside” but says “administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this.” Really? Teachers are exactly the ones who should be talking about this, because we are the ones who know the truth about what’s happening to education. Don’t be fooled. This is just one more way for businessmen to take the educators out of the discussion on education. No thanks, Education Post. We aren’t buying. Read the entire Washington Post article to decide for yourself.

On August 26, we wrote a blog post about the call for later school start times after a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that kids, especially teens, need more sleep. A September 2 Chicago Tribune article describes exactly just how much sleep teens aren’t getting, despite the report’s suggestion to push back school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. According to the article, though, only about 15% of U.S. high schools have an opening bell at 8:30 a.m. or later. Hearing just how an early school day affects students, from falling asleep in class, to relying on caffeine and stimulants, makes the issue all too real. Read the students’ comments in the full article.

Sometimes, articles fall into our laps at just the right time, and this is the case with the newly updated NCTE Position Statement on Students’ Right to Write. We’ve been making the case for TRUE writing on our website within the past week, and the NCTE Position Statement falls right in line with what we’ve been saying: students’ right to write must be protected. One of our favorite “beliefs” from the Position Statement is “teachers should avoid scripted writing that discourages individual creativity, voice, or expression of ideas.” Yes! Break out of the formula writing and allow students to write to learn and explore and express. Read the entire NCTE Position Statement here.

Why does America hate teachers? Noah Berlatsky, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, admits that while that is not exactly the premise of Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars, the book does trend toward answering that question with an account of 200 years of education policy. Worth noting here is one of Berlatsky’s takeaways from the book: “Education reform, as so often before, seemed to be less about aiding students than about targeting teachers.” This is nothing new for teachers to hear, but it is nice to hear that an “outsider” gets it. Another one of Berlatsky’s gems, “The focus on testing to evaluate teachers, then, is not based on a rational look at the research. Instead, one could argue, it’s based on the logic of the moral panic, and the created identity of teachers,” gets at one of Goldstein’s main points: “discussions of education in the U.S. have repeatedly been framed in terms of moral panics.” This is an intriguing article about an even more intriguing book: read Berlatsky’s entire article from The Atlantic.