Money Moves No Minds



Why Teach For America Works – Michelle Rhee

copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

In the Fall, this year and every year, in this nation talk turns to Education.  The President of the United States delivers a speech to students.  Articles appear in the news.  Television broadcasts beckon us to think about our Education Nation.  In 2010, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, did what many thought novel.  He donated $100 million dollars to Newark City Schools.  Some were skeptical of his motives.  More rejoiced.  Certainly with abundant cash in the coffers, change would come to the nations schools, or at least to the chosen educational institutions.  However,  it might not.

Even Michele Rhee, Chancellor of Education, Washington District of Columbia and numerous others who may not always agree with most Teachers have doubts when talk of real transformation in education abound. Geoffrey Canada also has voiced concerns.  The two are amongst the masses who have observed, that money does not necessarily move minds nay, academic agendas.

For years, Educators and learners articulated disbelief and discontent with educational doctrines. Reform, while a popular reframe, rarely bears fruit.  The prideful profess solutions. Philanthropic folks throw money at educational endeavors.  Yet, just as was reported in regards to the endowment awarded to the Newark, New Jersey schools,  ” We can’t speculate too much at this point.”  Specifics are often too-welled defined or not defined at all.

A person briefed on the Newark plans said. “O)n issues like expansion of charter schools, rigorous testing and rewarding teachers and administrators whose students succeed their [Mayor Booker, Governor Christie and Mister Zuckerberg] vision is very much in step”  In other words, what has been the unsuccessful conventional-wisdom-way will be the strategy going forward.

Once again, persons with authority and funds forget.  What we learn in our homes and in our schools becomes who we are.  Adults [and peers] are mentors. Persons who we perceive as authorities and authority figures have power, the power to influence our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Disagree or agree, what our friends discover and experience informs us as well.  At any and every age, we absorb and acquire knowledge.  This greatness is known as awareness.  However, the quality of the insights gained might be questioned.  Our comprehension shades our future.  The past is our foundation.  The present can be a gift or it can be proof that “all that glitters is not gold” Today, in America, indeed, worldwide we must consider what we have created beginning in childhood for our experiences and the emotional effect of these will follow us forever.

Please ponder.  None of us has a singular interpretation or emotional response to what we encounter. There is no standard soul.  This notion is one that the boyish-billionaire, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg could understand. After all his life experience personifies this truth.  Moreover, one might think that policymakers, such as Mayor Booker, Governor Christie. would realize this.

Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, students, Teachers see the veracity. These persons feel it.  Particularly those immersed, if not paralyzed by a flawed system do not need to assess the statistics the people in power peruse. It is their life.

While Administrators might denounce the appraisal, dollars will do the deed, at times, they too focus on the “finer” financial narrow realities.  

Those imprisoned in a system void of inspiration, creativity, curiosity, do more than sense the damage done when rankings are more prized than people, pupils.  Student react to the wrong that is standards; it negates their existence.  That is why so many pupils and Professors ultimately leave our nation’s schools.  Yet, those outside the classrooms notice nothing.

“Mature” Americans move on, pour money on a problem that cash cannot correct.  As evidence, $100 million dollars donated to city schools is set to stress, again, that Educators teach to tests.  Gift the Instructors and institution that can produce “results.”

No money is spent on a subject worthy of research.  “Adults” might evaluate the topic that speaks to individual identities.  Perchance, were powerbrokers and prominent people to study their own personal past, then possibly they would acknowledge and act on the concept, each of us are, as schools must be, our own unique entity.

References for Reform and Realities of Education in this Nation . . .

To Teach English [TESOL]; To Touch Lives

copyright © 2008 Eric Dwyer Eric S. Dwyer, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Program Leader Modern Language Education and TESOL.  Florida International University, Miami, Florida. and Mark Algren English as a Foreign Language [EFL] International Spot

We have been on message that the goal is to work for the students.  For the K-12ers, this is a matter of kids and their families.  We take this stance very seriously.  We may even jump on people if they even slightly blow us off.  And it’s because we actually know children and families who contribute to our society by their being in our classrooms.  So, why shouldn’t we be a little pissed off when others seemingly don’t care about such or forget about such.  I’m right there with you.

And in spite of my first paragraph, I don’t want to do it.  I need to light my fire.

Sometimes when I can’t light my own fire, I can turn to the words of Elliot Judd, the 2006 TESOL president, who gave a plenary address in Tampa that spring on whether TESOL is a job or a profession.  He reminds us that in order to be there for our students, we do need to attend to our professionalism.  The plight of our students and our professionalism are tethered.  Without our attention to professionalism, we cannot attend to the students in the ways we prioritize.

Elliot’s plenary was for the profession of TESOL, but I think his words apply to foreign language education in general.  Hence, where you see “TESOL,” you might insert your own “foreign language education” alphabetization.

Elliot didn’t publish his speech, but Mark Algren–the TESOL president next year–took these notes.  Together we’ve edited them.  Be sure, though, that in the paraphrasing, we give full credit to Elliot for these thoughts.  I turn to them often:

***

Elliot Judd, Associate Professor.  University of Illinois at Chicago

Elliot says:

The call!  I get a weekly call from someone who wants to get into teaching ESL with no training or experience: “Can you give me a short article about TESOL?  I just got a job and need to know what to do.  Give me a 10 page article and then I can go out and practice.”

Asking the same question of other professions is ludicrous.  Here are ten traits of a profession, and how TESOL relates to these.

10 traits of a profession

1. A profession has a professional body of knowledge.

The canon of the profession is a collection of professional beliefs; the latest view of beliefs and practices of a profession; our research body.  Novice studies the canon through classroom or practice experience or both.  You should also keep up with new developments and trends to stay up to date.  TESOL has this.  Research does matter even if you’re not engaged, you need to know it; otherwise you’re practicing intellectual alchemy.

2. A profession has a prescribed regimen and licensing of members.

Institutions are staffed by qualified professionals know the canon.  Neophytes study the canon and then the professional institution awards a degree, licensing them and welcoming them to the profession.  There is some state licensing.  This assures quality and maintains standards in the profession.  Others say this stifles, crushes competition.  But the profession itself controls who enters.  It assumes those who are in the profession respect the canon and hire only those who are trained.  In many professions, you must have a license and not having one is a crime.  TESOL has a mixed record.  With the rise of teacher training institutions, many are quality programs.  TESOL has policies against hiring unqualified professionals.  But the practice continues.

3. A professions has a code of ethics and standards

A code of ethics protects the public from those who deviate.  Those who violate the code and prescribed standards are censured and barred from the profession.  For example, doctors can censure other doctors and remove their license.  TESOL has started to create a set of standards for ESL instruction.  So far, most have focused on a North American context.  There is need to create more in the future that are sound but sensitive to local situations throughout the world.

4. A profession is respected for their authority and expertise.

Why?  Because professions train and empower professionals.  They remove those who are not qualified.  The profession is seen as the supreme source of knowledge in the profession, and it is respected as the source both inside and outside the profession.  The TESOL record indicates that more outsiders recognize us as a source of professional knowledge.  But many outside the profession who don’t know we exist and do not seek our expertise.  Within our institutions, many do not consult us on our area of expertise regarding language-learning issues.  We must continue to educate others on who we are and what we do, especially those in policy making positions.

The year 2006 was a big start in that direction when the INS came to TESOL because they are designing a new English language test and they wanted 12 qualified professionals to design this.  We need to reach out, so we are known to those outside our profession, so they know to come to us.  We need to educate fellow teachers to talk to the local professionals in the building when you are teaching English to someone who is a non-native speaker.

5. A profession is autonomous.

The profession creates its own licensing, code of ethics, and so forth.

Independence is recognized by both outsiders and insiders.  You can talk to others but come back to the professional.  Autonomy is a professional right.

TESOL has endeavored to create autonomy.  Other professions in education and lay people are beginning to acknowledge our autonomy.  Others, however, deny us professional respect.  We must educate on a personal level.  We need to convince teachers that they have non- and limited-English speakers in the classroom and should talk with the ESOL professional about what is the best policy for that student.  NCLB talks about need for qualified teachers, categories are listed – social studies, science, math, all of which are valid and autonomous.  What is missing is a category called ESOL.

We need to keep pushing for professional autonomy.  If we are not on the list of acceptable, qualified teachers, the clear message is we are not in the same league and do not have to be consulted.  Listing us gives the same autonomy as others.

6. A profession has the power to influence.

There is internal power to train and certify and external power to influence others.  For example, when establishing policy for doctors, then doctors are included in the discussions.  Ultimately, doctors must accept the decision and will be required to implement it.  It is a monopoly, there is no one else to turn to, for good or bad.

TESOL is lacking in power.  TESOL does not have internal power to censure those who are unqualified.  Anyone can open a language school with no qualifications, in many parts of the world and in the U.S.  Anyone can be an English teacher.  I have nothing against volunteers.  But if I need brain Surgery, I don’t go to a volunteer.  Many in my own profession hire unqualified teachers.  We have no power to censure or disbar.  No TESOL malpractice!  We need the power to influence those outside the profession in ministries of education, and so forth.  They make decisions that affect our daily lives and we have no power to stop it.  A key future goal for us is to increase power.

7. A profession has status and prestige.

Professions have material status through salary.  They also have non-material status in the form of respect based upon knowledge and expertise.  For example, we may not like lawyers but they have economic power and status, and we have nowhere else to go.

TESOL?  We don’t have the material status.  We DO HAVE great status and love from our students and this keeps us in the profession.  We get things back in non-material ways.

8. A profession is altruistic and serves the public

There exists an unwritten covenant between the profession and the public.  We need public trust.  If we are untrustworthy, then we are no longer a profession.  We can no longer do the BEST possible for our client.

With respect to TESOL, we score highest in this area.  No one questions the altruism of TESOL.  We are trusted by our clients, our students.  The rewards we get back from our students far surpass what we give our students; we are important in their lives.  We are not selfish but a giving group of people – good, caring, giving.  We care about our students and their world.

9. A profession is a full-time lifelong commitment.

Because of the training, rigor, we expect to practice it for our entire professional careers.  Imagine a doctor who really has no office, works part time in 6 hospitals, and keeps tools in trunk of my car.  I wouldn’t trust someone who says they are dabbling in medicine.  I want a dedicated, full-time committed professional.

TESOL!  We have a problem, Houston!  A tragedy of TESOL!  We are losing qualified professionals because they cannot get fulltime work in the field.  If colleagues must leave TESOL for these reasons, no one can blame them, but it hurts the profession.  It hurts all of us because members of our profession cannot secure work.  This practice allows ill-trained or untrained people to enter the profession.  I don’t have to hire qualified people when there is a pool of unqualified people waiting and when I do there is nothing you can do about it.  We must advocate for the under- or partially employed for full time work and that they have the same rights and benefits of others.

10. A profession forms professional associations

Forming professional associations serve and protect professional autonomy, a face to the public.  Through collective unity, we are stronger.  We become visible.  The association becomes our collective voice and advocate.  TESOL is our professional association.

Still we have far to go and much to be done.  but we have much to celebrate.  We come here every year to gain sustenance.

1. TESOL must be in the forefront of presenting research findings.  Our serial publications must present he latest research and informed classroom practices based on the latest research.

2. TESOL must issue professional standards that are both sensitive to local English language teaching  situations and that reflect current research findings.

3. TESOL must be engaged in advocacy work to educate policy makers and other associations.

4. TESOL must insist that only well-trained, highly qualified individuals teach in English language teaching classrooms.

5. TESOL must lead the right that all ELT professional receive fulltime

employment and all the benefits that they are entitled to.

6. TESOL must speak out against those who hire unqualified personnel who should not be in ELT.

7. TESOL must be the voice in defending the rights of all ELT leaders.

8. Must endeavor to make all ELT professionals a member of the association.

My hope that TESOL will be generic that someday it means all ELT professionals.

***

Well, Elliot’s not doing so well.  Some of you may know this.  He’s been public about his illness.  And Elliot has been a dear friend to us, and a tremendous leader his entire career, particularly these last few years.  So, his words are very much on my mind as I try to grind through this work we’ve got this week.

And I will remember and cherish the contributions of Elliot Judd forever.

One Nation Left Behind



“One Nation Left Behind” Campaign

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Without a good education, children are left behind.  Americans understand this.  Yet, most do not acknowledge, in the United States, very few young persons receive quality instruction.  American children do not learn to think critically, creatively, or comprehensively in comparison to those in other countries.  Even students enrolled in excellent schools do not excel as children elsewhere do.  Internationally, the information published in a 2002, United Nations Children’s Fund, [UNICEF] study exposed a frightening truth; America pupils and schools receive poor grades when student performance and instruction are assessed.  Today, the American education system remains at risk.  As a recent report reinforces, today as we observe our offspring, we must consider the necessity of change.  It is time to make Tough Choices (in these) Tough Times.  This nation, left behind, must commit to teach our children well.

As adolescents, an individual who was not taught to analyze autonomously may do well.  As an adult, this same person will struggle to survive in the workforce.  While he or she may do well in school, as adults, people learn there is more to life than test taking.  Once out in the world, each of us receives the lesson rarely taught in the classroom, or at least one that is not taught as well.  Without the habit of hale and hearty intellectual activity, opportunities to expand in life are few.  A diploma deficiency can also make daily doings difficult.  Service jobs, which require little creative, innovative, and imagintive thought, will be all that is available to one who learned only how to prepare for and take tests.  

Accountability, while a noble concept, when calculated with abundant disregard for intellectual curiosity, quells a society’s greatest need.  The future is found in our youth.  Sadly, in recent years we, as a country have counted on tallies to tell us whether our children have learned.  In today’s schools our young acquire some, selective knowledge.  Teens and tots have mastered the methods necessary to improve Math, Science, and reading scores.  At least, the little ones have worked to secure these skills.  

In classrooms throughout the country, our offspring memorize and mechanically mouth the “facts” our ancestors discovered long ago.  Very few are instructed to think beyond what others in the past believed were the boundaries.  Unlike ancients who questioned accepted theories such as the Earth is flat, our progeny are trained to consent to a construct that may not be correct.  In America, people are so confident that what is currently considered the truth is accurate; we do not encourage our children to explore.

Moms, Dads, mentors, and the policymakers, who tell educators what to teach, confine children to rooms where dictums are delivered.  The statements, “Answer the question,”  “Do not ask why,” and “Do not turn the page” dominates the current curriculum.  “Silent.  Test in progress,” is a sign that hangs from many a door in educational institutions.  Pupils are told to mark a Scantron™ or bubble the circle in completely.  The only query frequently heard in American schools is, “Do you have a number 2 pencil?”

Boredom sets in amongst students whose minds crave creative activity.  Disheartened and dejected, millions of potentially scholarly pupils, dropout.  Intellectually, emotionally, and physically our offspring have dropped out in droves since No Child Left Behind was introduced in this nation’s schools.  However, this program is but an extension of a trend put in place by politicians who wish to embrace the popular notion, people must be held responsible.  Teachers, learners, and school Administrators need to document the acquisition of knowledge.

In today’s society, the focus is more on scores, tallies, totals, than it is on the child.  Hence, examinations are used to make high stake decisions.  In America, an evaluation administered on any given day in the life of a little one, determines whether a student is an achiever, or ultimately a failure.  A child’s school career can be crushed hours after he was told his parents would divorce, her father passed, or someone he or she loves is seriously ill.  

The statistics show that in the more than seven years that this policy has been law we have seen that a “high-stakes accountability system has a direct impact on the severity of the dropout problem.”  

The “original” premise behind the No Child Left Behind program or any plan that dictates a child must quash curiosity in favor of existing “factual” documentation is “Schools and students held accountable to these measures [standardized, high-stakes, test-based accountability] will automatically increase educational output.”  However, in a report titled, “Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis,” researchers reveal . . .

The reality is far different.  The findings of this study show that the accountability system itself is complicit in the very losses it claims to reverse.  The losses are avoidable, but not while this accountability system governs schools.

Perhaps, the possibility of better days and an improved instructional methodology is the reason educators have rallied ’round the Republican Convention and rolled out an unprecedented proclamation. America is One Nation Left Behind.  A nonprofit alliance “dedicated to increasing the dialogue about the state of public education in the United States” hopes to garner the attention of gadabouts, Convention goers, and government officials.  

Strong American Schools or representatives of this organization, also participated in the activities in Denver during the Democratic National Convention.  They understand politicians in each Party were, are, and will be responsible for reform, or the lack of change in the nation’s curriculum.

While sensitive to the source of the No Child Left Behind program the Grand Old Party President, George W. Bush, seasoned educators and experts in instruction are aware, Democrats also helped to hand down the decree that has destroyed American schools.  A bipartisan commitment to calculations over curiosity closed the doors to many an American mind.

That said, perchance, aware of the support for standardized educational plans amongst Republicans, this organization led by Roy Romer, a former Colorado Governor and Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Schools, chose this week to prominently share what they believe must be an essential message in a Presidential election year.  

Strong American Schools, the group behind the ED in ’08 campaign to boost debate about education in the presidential campaign, has a full-page ad in this morning’s St. Paul Pioneer Press that bluntly says, “Our schools are failing.”

The ad, in the newspaper’s special news section on the Republican National Convention, displays a ranking of national flags showing the United States as 21st in the world in science. (The fine print cites several assessments, including two from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)

“The countries with the best schools attract the best jobs,” the ad says.  “If jobs move to countries like Finland and South Korea, your child’s opportunities dry up. And so does our economy.”

Although, most Americans claim the economy is the most important issue, in the first Presidential political debates, not one of the aspirants who wished to sit in the Oval Office mentioned education reform.  Those who vied for the presidency did not think it vital to speak of our students, or the American school system.  Citizens, perhaps trained to be apathetic, did not voice what must be a deep-seated source of distress if the United States is to grow truly successful children.  Curriculums must encourage  critical thought.

In the initial televised Democratic and Republican conversations with Americans, there was no mention of what citizens do not wish to consider.   In education, America is not number one.  This country is ranked at 21.  Internationally, in twenty other countries a higher percentage of students graduate from High School.  Seventy percent of eight-graders do not read at grade level.  Ninety-three percent of Middle School Science instructors are not trained in the discipline they teach.  The United States is the only developed nation to have a zero percentage increase in the number of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees awarded.

What those who wish to give birth to a strong America believe is, if America is to thrive, as a community, we must act on our awareness.  Children must be encouraged to think for themselves.  Elders must place education first if this country is to be number one, two, or even three.  Indeed, where the United States ranks on a scale is not nearly as significant as what we teach our children.

If this society is to succeed, Americans must embrace education for the Seventh Generation.  Each of us must prepare our progeny to be critical, creative, and curious thinkers.

The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.

~ Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American Author, Editor and Printer.

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.

~ Carl Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) American Psychologist

Education, properly understood, is that which teaches discernment.

~ Joseph Roux (1725-1793) French Cartographer and Hydrographer


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School Supplies and Sources . . .

Policymakers Applaud Marginal Gains on History Test


Sec. Spellings admits lacks of educational credentials. YouTube.com.

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Quick, answer these questions.  You are being timed.  However, do not feel pressured.  Do the best that you can.  Our school literally depends on you.  Your performance on these examinations will determine  whether our district or this facility receives Federal funding.  Do not open your test booklet until I tell you to do so.  When you are finished, close the pamphlet, put your pencil down, and sit quietly.  You may begin.The voyages of Columbus changed life in Europe by  . . .
A) introducing new foods and spices to Europe
B) showing Europeans a shorter route to Asia
C) introducing the horse to Spain
D) proving that the Earth was flat

In what year did Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin?  More importantly, What was a major effect of the introduction of the cotton gin?  Name the first permanent English settlement in North America.  What was the main issue in the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858?  Stop!  Close your booklet.  Place your future in my hands for now.  I will pass your answers on to the authorities.  Notes and Scantrons will be evaluated.  Ultimately, a big bureaucrat will decide.  Did you learn your lessons well?  Was my teaching to the test effective?  Might we all be rewarded for the rote recall that now defines education?  Well, that depends on how the government spins the story.  By the way, the answer to the first question is “A.”  The journeys made by Christopher Columbus introduced new foods and spices to European citizens.

You, dear reader, recall the drill.  We have all experienced the trauma, drama, and thrill of standardized testing.  In recent years, the excitement is expanding.  Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, our children take standardized tests more regularly.  The rewards for doing well are ample.  The punishment for doing poorly is, some say, excessive.  Nevertheless, students must be “accountable.”  Scores are scrutinized.  The New York Times states, Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History; nevertheless, as a whole, the pupils in this nation improved. 

At least, that is the opinion of officials in the Federal government.

Federal officials said they considered the results encouraging because at each level tested, student performance had improved since the last time the exam was administered, in 2002.

“In U.S. history there were higher scores in 2006 for all three grades,” said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, at a Boston news conference that the Education Department carried by Webcast.

The government is proclaiming the educational system in America is  better than it was and the progress will continue.  According, to the Washington Post Department of Education personnel state . . . .

The nation’s fourth-graders have shown significant gains in U.S. history and civics test scores, federal researchers reported yesterday, a development that — coupled with similar recent advances in reading, math and science — experts attribute in large part to an intense national focus on reading in early grades.

Educators said they were also heartened by significant improvement in 12th-grade U.S. history scores, the first national gain in any high school subject in eight years.  The rise in elementary social studies scores, once considered in the doldrums, drew the most attention.

Such accolades, welcome progress and yet, there seems to be little concern for what is not working well.

[M]ore than half of high school seniors still showed poor command of basic facts like the effect of the cotton gin on the slave economy or the causes of the Korean War.

Excuses can be made.  Indeed, Federal spokespersons are offering explanations that seem feasible.  These High School seniors were educated under the older more lax system.  Now, since No Child Left Behind was initiated, schools are moving back to basics.  Today, students are succeeding in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  Better reading skills help pupils to extrapolate.  The failings will never occur again, for learners that perform poorly will not be allowed to advance to the next grade or graduate with their classmates. 

Department administrators prefer to highlight the successes.  These are evident for the most part, only in the lower fourth grade results.

Since 2002, beginning in Head Start programs, and continuing into the twelfth grade, pupils are required to pass rigid and rote examinations.  Students of all sizes, shapes, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences must meet specific minimal standards.  Each scholar is assessed as his or her peers are, even if their background and aptitude vary.  Every educator must be “accountable.”  There are no allowances or expectations.  All are judged equally. 

Educators argue against this unyielding system.  Parents complain as imaginative programs are cut.  Pupils are bored; however, these individuals are powerless against the Bush Administration.  Over the years, some schools have chosen to be different and suffer the consequences.

Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test
By Marc Fisher 
Washington Post
Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01

Teachers grumble and moan about how politicians’ love affair with tests has turned education into a grim mission to teach creative young minds how to darken the ovals completely and neatly.

Parents complain about the lost arts and athletics, the exciting labs and imaginative lessons that schools cut out to make way for classes on the art and science of taking standardized tests.

But rarely do public schools take a stand on behalf of the children left behind by the very law that promises to carry them forward.

This summer, Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Falls Church put down a marker.  A letter sent to every parent said teachers are being forced to spend “valuable instructional time preparing students to take the Standards of Learning tests, to the exclusion of activities that extend and deepen student learning, integrate the arts with content, and allow students to develop and pursue their own questions.”

The letter said Bailey’s, which as Fairfax County’s first magnet elementary school attracts immigrant families from its Culmore neighborhood and more affluent families from across the county, will still teach children how to think like scientists and historians, even though “this is not what standardized tests measure or encourage.”

The letter was more than an ideological tract.  It was a warning to parents that in the next few weeks, they may find their school declared failing under the federal government’s No Child Left Behind protocols.

The problem is that about 77 percent of Bailey’s students are immigrants, many of whom come to school knowing little or no English.  The law requires the school to bring an ever-higher percentage of those students up to grade level each year.  Bailey’s, like most schools with large populations of poor or non-English-speaking students, isn’t hitting its numbers.

“It’s an ax hanging over our heads,” says Jean Frey, the principal, who has to explain to parents that if Bailey’s is declared failing, the county could fire its teachers, and families would have the right to transfer to another school.

“I have no problem with being accountable,” Frey says.  “As a citizen, I want these kids to grow up to be literate problem-solvers.”  But she will not shutter her science lab, pull the plug on theatrical productions, or tell teachers to scrap a literature discussion to drill kids on test facts.

“The testing itself is enormously time-consuming,” Frey says.  “We give up over two weeks in May to the tests.  So, the rest of the year, we try very hard not to do ‘SOL Prep Time,’ like many schools do.  How important is it to know how to fill in ABCD?  I don’t do that very often as an adult.”

The elders at Bailey’s Elementary school believe what we do in our careers and with our lives rarely relates to the mechanical “facts” we learn in school.  These educators acknowledge as many a scientist might “facts are fluid.”  They often change over time.  Only this week we learned that Darwin did not discover what he expected to find.  The scientist wrote . . .

At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.

Yet, the current educational system acts as though they are.  Individuals are thought to be standard or subordinate.  Information is considered a constant.  Data is indisputable.  Events must be interpreted as reported in a particular historical text, and problems have one absolute answer.  The correct response is the one dictated by National Assessment of Educational Progress. 

When we as a society believe or accept that conclusions are unchallengeable, we no longer strive to challenge the minds of our children.  We state No Child will be Left Behind; yet most are when American students learn to improve their memories while forfeiting their mental capacity. 

The technique that interprets scores as success or failure is often referred to as “teaching to the test.”  This method is frequently questioned.  The Bailey’s School was not the first or only institution to reject the practice.  This instructional method has its supporters and its detractors.  Each argument may be apt and well stated.  However, I believe the question is of greater concern than the answers might be.  I think what is most important is that we “teach to the individual.”  As we evaluate further, we might better understand why the rise in scores is of little consequence in the real world.

Educational experts understand that students are well served if instructors are sensitive to the needs of their pupils as the unique persons they are.  Learning modalities must be addressed.  Relevancy needs to be realized if a student is to authentically acquire knowledge. 

Giving grades, assessing moments, and memories does not establish or ensure that what was “learned” will last for a lifetime.  Yet, under the current system grades not depth are crucial.

The ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create is no longer as important as the details are.  Critical thinking skills, those that develop through discussion take time and discipline.  Teachers no longer have the minutes or hours needed for genuine instruction.  They can only assist students in understanding the process of elimination in the event that the “fact” escapes you. 

Let us truly assess what occurs when we do not teach critical thinking skills. The recent History and civic scores are revealing.

A sampling of what eighth-graders know about U.S. history:

  • 64 percent identified an impact of the cotton gin
  • 43 percent explained goals of the Martin Luther King Jr. march
  • 1 percent explained how the fall of the Berlin Wall affected foreign policy

    A sampling of what eighth-graders know about civics:

  • 80 percent identified a notice for jury duty
  • 63 percent determined an instance of abuse of power
  • 28 percent explained the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence

    Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress reports

  • You might notice from the results the depth of knowledge is limited.  Obviously, children are being left behind.  Schools inevitably fall below minimum standards.  Requirements are not met.  In accordance with the law, educational facilities will not receive funding or they will be taken over if they do not perform as prescribed.  The Administration declares, research has proven punitive measures work to motivate minds, or so we are told.

    It seems the incentive to succeed on strict and binding evaluations left educators with few choices.  Courses were cut.  Curriculums adjusted, and schedules were changed.

    A number of studies have shown that because No Child Left Behind requires states to administer annual tests in math and reading, and punishes schools where scores in those subjects fail to rise, many schools have reduced time spent on other subjects, including history.  In a recent study, Martin West, an education professor at Brown, used federal data to show that during 2003-4, first- and sixth-grade teachers spent 23 fewer minutes a week on history than during 1999-2000.

    However, the government counters, fourth graders scored higher in their history examinations.

    The best results in the history test were also in fourth grade, where 70 percent of students attained the basic level of achievement or better.

    Imagine, only seventy percent understood the most basic concepts.  This result is thought to be excellent by Federal spokespersons.  Twelfth graders are said to be the exception.  The Administration laments, these young persons fell so far behind due to less stringent earlier instruction and evaluations.  No Child Left Behind laws are challenging adolescents to achieve after years of neglect.  Federal officials say, prior to the preferred rigidity of No Child Left Behind, standards were lax.  It is for this reason the results are less than stellar.

    The tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, divide achievement levels into basic, proficient and advanced.  The 2006 history assessment had the highest percentage of 12th-grade students scoring below basic of any subject tested in 2005 and 2006.

    However, there are concerns beyond  the scores of High School seniors.

    [O]nly 1 percent of students at any grade level scored at the advanced level.

    The history test was given to a national sample of 29,200 fourth, 8th- and 12th-grade students.  Among the results were these:

    ¶Some 47 percent of the 12th graders performed at the basic level or above.  In 2001, 43 percent were at or above basic.

    ¶Sixty-five percent of eighth graders achieved the basic level or better, up from 62 percent six years ago.

    ¶Seventy percent of fourth graders attained or exceeded the basic level, compared with 66 percent in 2001.  Even this result, however, left 30 percent who, for instance, lacked an ability to identify even the most familiar historic figures or explain the reasons for celebrating national holidays.

    While the Federal bureaucrats, those who dole out the dough believe the gains demonstrate progress, educators and experts do not think the statistics give reason for celebration.  They are concerned; Americans scholars rank far below those in other nations.  The advent of the newer tests and standards are lessening the quality and time allotted to genuine instruction.  Rote is promulgated and critical thinking is rarely part of the current curriculum.  There just is not enough time, particularly when punitive measures for not achieving as the Administration thinks best are but a step away.  Professional educators say this report does not inspire hope.

    “It’s heartwarming that the test organizers have found positive things to say, but this report is not anything to break out the Champagne over,” said Theodore K. Rabb, a professor of history at Princeton who advocates devoting more classroom time to the subject.

    The civics exam was given to a national sample of 25,300 4th, 8th, and 12th graders.  Seventy-three percent of fourth-grade pupils performed at the basic level or better, up from 69 percent in 1998, the last time the civics exam was administered.  The scores of 8th and 12th graders showed no change.

    “What is most discouraging is that as students grow older and progress through the grades towards adulthood and eligibility to vote, their civic knowledge and dispositions seems to grow weaker,” said David W. Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County School District in California, who is a member of the board that sets policies for the test.

    By contrast, the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings thought the scores superb.  For Secretary Spellings, the result reiterated the Administration’s claims, schools are now showing themselves accountable.  They are offering a foundation for all knowledge.  The Secretary, in a retort to detractors stated . . .

    “When students know how to read and comprehend,” Ms. Spellings said, “they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics.”

    It seems the solution amongst instructors and  historians is we must examine a student’s knowledge of history more frequently.  Apparently, in the original No Child Left Behind law, learners were given Reading and Math test every other year.  History evaluations were scheduled every five to seven years.  Thus . . .

    In Washington, Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, reintroduced a bill on Wednesday based on the premise that the National Assessment gave history short shrift, testing it every five to seven years instead of every other year as with reading and math. Their legislation would require national history tests every four years, with more students tested.

    David McCullough, John Hope Franklin, Douglas Brinkley and dozens of other prominent historians have sent Congress a petition urging the bill’s passage.

    It seems today, teachers are told to teach only lessons that correlate to tests.  Evaluations no longer assess authentic knowledge.  Tests are designed  to pay the bills.  I think we must ask ourselves, what are we teaching.  Why do we instruct as we do, and are we doing a disservice to our children and society?  I believe the answers to these questions might help, if or when we ever choose to evaluate ourselves.

    References, Resources.  Read Carefully.  There may be a test . . .

  • Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. May 17, 2007
  • pdf Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. May 17, 2007
  • Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; A09
  • pdf Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews.
    Washington Post.
    Thursday, May 17, 2007; A09

  • Tests show students learn basics in history, civics. Cable News Network. May 17, 2007
  • Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test. By Marc Fisher. Washington Post. Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01
  • pdf Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test. By Marc Fisher. Washington Post. Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01
  • Word For Word, My Dear Fellow Species, By Mary Jo Murphy.  The New York Times. May 20, 2007
  • pdf Word For Word, My Dear Fellow Species, By Mary Jo Murphy.  The New York Times. May 20, 2007
  • Let’s Teach to the Test, By Jay Mathews.  Washington Post. Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf Let’s Teach to the Test, By Jay Mathews.  Washington Post. Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
  • ‘Teach to the Test’? What Test? By Colman McCarthy.  Washington Post. Saturday, March 18, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf ‘Teach to the Test’? What Test? By Colman McCarthy.  Washington Post. Saturday, March 18, 2006; Page A21
  • Tests show students learn basics in history, civics.  Cable News Network.  May 17, 2007
  • Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; Page A09
  • pdf Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; Page A09
  • Children and Schools Are Left Behind. No Dentist Languish.

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.
    ~ Alec Bourne [Educator]

    Two years ago, in Literacy and The Bush Legacy I penned this proposition.

    Our current President considers himself a champion in the arena of education.  He believes that his program, “No Child Left Behind,” is the shining light of his career.

    Today, George W. Bush continues on his quest towards dimming the naturally brilliant minds of our progeny minds.  The President proposes we renew the education law.

    George W. Bush thinks teaching to the test is wise.  Mister Bush  believes innovation, imagination, and invention are unnecessary in a classroom.  Students must be accountable.  Schools must teach core competencies in their curriculum.  According to the President, our children can only achieve excellence if the standards are high.  We must reward success and sanction failure.

    Nationwide, Principals and professional educators are questioning the instructional methods imposed by this Administration.  Urban schools are struggling to meet the “standards.”  Rachel B. Tompkins, President of the Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) in Washington, wrote, “No one argues with the lofty goals of this legislation.  No one argues that accountability is not a good thing.  What is wrong with the No Child Left Behind Act is that its cookie-cutter approach, like many other well-meaning, one-size-fits-all education policies, will almost certainly leave rural schools, and rural children behind.”  With all the talk of what is and is not working, there is much confusion. 

    Those that do not work in the schools may feel saturated.  There is too much information, too little, and the terms are unfamiliar.  A fellow educator helped to explain the program by offering a novel perspective.  I present to you . . .

    No Dentist Left Behind

    My dentist is great!  He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups.

    He uses the latest techniques based on research.  He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth.

    When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program.  I knew he’d think it was great.

    “Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?”  I said.

    “No,” he said.  He didn’t seem too thrilled.  “How will they do that?”

    “It’s quite simple,” I said.  “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating.  Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory.  That way parents will know which are the best dentists.  The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said.  “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

    “That’s terrible,” he said.

    “What?  That’s not a good attitude,” I said.  “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”

    “Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”

    “Why not?”  I said.  “It makes perfect sense to me.”

    “Well, it’s so obvious,” he said.  “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can’t control?  For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods.  Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work.  Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.  To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water, which is untreated and has no fluoride in it.  Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

    “It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said.  “I can’t believe that you, my dentist, would be so defensive.  After all, you do a great job, and you needn’t fear a little accountability.”

    “I am not being defensive!” he said.  “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

    “Don’t’ get touchy,” I said.

    “Touchy?” he said.  His face had turned red, and from the way, he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth.

    “Try furious!  In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse.  The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist.  They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients.  And my cavity average score will get even worse.  On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

    “I think you are overreacting,” I said.  “‘Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’…I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

    “What’s the DOC?” he asked.

    “It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

    “Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this.  Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.

    The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”

    “Come watch me work,” he said.  “Observe my processes.”

    “That’s too complicated, expensive and time- consuming,” I said.  “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line.  It’s an absolute measure.”

    “That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think.  This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

    “Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair.  The state will help you some.”

    “How?” he asked.

    “If you receive a poor rating, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.

    “You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience?  BIG HELP!”

    “There you go again,” I said.  “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

    “You don’t get it,” he said.  “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that.  Why would they do something so unfair to dentists?  No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

    I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.  “I’m going to write my representatives and senators,” he said.  “I’ll use the school analogy.  Surely they will see the point.”

    He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I, as a teacher, see in the mirror so often lately.

    By John S.  Taylor, Superintendent of Schools for the Lancaster County, PA, School District.

    Be a friend to a teacher and pass this on.

    Timothy Hoey Principal Nottingham Middle/Colbert Elementary

    I hope this lesson has been instructive.  Perhaps, presenting a parallel has been helpful.  There are no facts and formulas to recall.  I offer no final exam on this material.  Unlike our President, I believe learning lasts a lifetime when we relate to information.  In my experience, rote and routine rarely reap the rewards Mister Bush expects. 

    For me, effective learning evolves when we love the process.  My hope is this analysis was pure pleasure.  Please feel free to share this tale.  Teach the concept of No Child Left Behind as you will.  Your approach need not be standard.  Your pupils are likely unique.  As the President is often heard to say, “I understand.”

    References for Your Review . . .

  • “No Child Left Behind” United States Department of Education.
  • Literacy and The Bush Legacy By Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.
  • Can A “One size fits All” Law Meet the Diverse Needs of Urban and Rural Schoolchildren?  National Access Network, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • The Animals Learn and Teach Us. Animal School

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert
    I know not whether I am a duck, a zebra, a fish, or a bee; perchance I am each of these.  I could be an eagle soaring through the sky, a bear happily hibernating.  Might I be as the squirrel scurrying about?  Possibly, I am just as the kangaroo are.  I travel through life by leaps and yet, I am still bound. 

    Whichever animal I identify with, I suspect their curriculum would be difficult for me.  Running, climbing, flying and swimming are great; yet, I do not do each of these equally well.  I wonder; could I accept the challenges the animals have?  I can barely realize my own.

    I know that the rote rhythm of reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic did and did not work well for me, depending.  At times, I excelled, on other occasions; I did not meet the standards.  The teachers had their requirements.  The administrators mandated rules.  Society-at-large regulated my learning.  I was always a disappointment [to me.]

    In school I struggled, I persevered, I achieved, and forever I felt a failure.  I was never good enough, even when I was the best.

    I am an audio learner; a visual pupil.  My understanding is unsurpassed when I am physically involved in the process.  For me, human interaction is most helpful; if I am to truly connect to the curriculum I need to bond with another human being.

    When in school my mind was filled with thoughts, mostly I wondered why class work was such a bore.  Frequently, my focus was fleeting.  I drifted in and out.  If I did well in a subject, I was surprised.  Teachers made the difference.  If an instructor took the time to know me, I would respond; however, this was a rare occurrence. 

    School is my story of success and strife.

    I cannot truly know what was real for you in school; nevertheless, I suspect that you too will relate to this presentation.  Please plunge in.  “Animal School” may tell your tale.  It did mine.

    The Source for Raising Small Souls and Animal School . . .

  • Animal School

  • Raising Small Souls Timeless Parenting Advice

    Please review the text, the transcript, and what brings me to tears.

    This story is reproduced, taken from the text of Preparing Our Children for Success.
    By Rabbi Z. Greenwald.

    The Animal School
    Once upon a time, the animals had a school. They had to create a curriculum that would satisfy everyone, so they chose four subjects: running, climbing, flying, and swimming. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, ALL the animals, of course, studied ALL the subjects.

    The duck was excellent in swimming — in fact, better than his instructor; but he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn, and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school, so nobody worried about that except the duck.

    The bear flunked because they said he was lazy, especially in the winter. His best time was summer, but school wasn’t open then.

    The zebra played hooky a lot because the ponies made fun of his stripes, and this made him very sad.

    The rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but he had a nervous breakdown because of so much make-up work in swimming. The kangaroo started out at the top of the racing class, but became discouraged when was told to move swiftly on all four legs the way his classmates did.

    The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class, where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. His legs got so sore practicing takeoffs that he began getting Cs in climbing and Ds in running.

    The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.

    The fish quit school because he was bored. To him, all four subjects were the same, but nobody understood that because they had never seen a fish.

    The bee was the biggest problem of all, so the teacher sent him to Doctor Owl for testing. Doctor Owl said that the bee’s wings were too small for flying and they were in the wrong place. The bee never saw Doctor Owl’s report, so he just went ahead and flew anyway. I think I know a bee or two, how about you?

    At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well and also could run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was named valedictorian.

    The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their child to a badger and later joined the ground hogs and the gophers in order to start a successful private school.

    The duck is the child who does well in math and poorly in English and is given tutorials by the English teacher while his classmates are doing math. He loses his edge in math, and only does passably well in English.

    The eagle is the child who is turned into a troublemaker because he has his “own style” of doing things. While he is not doing anything “wrong,” his non-conforming is perceived as troublemaking, for which he is punished.

    Who does not recognize the bear? The kid who is great in camp, thrives on extra-curricular, but really just goes flat in the academics.

    The zebra is the heavy, tall, or short, self-conscious kid whose failure in school few realize is due to a sense of social inadequacy.

    The kangaroo is the one who instead of persevering gives up and becomes that discouraged child whose future disappears because he was not appreciated.

    The fish is a child who really requires full special education and should not be in the regular classroom.

    The squirrel, unlike the duck who “manages,” becomes a failure.

    The bee, oh the bee, is the child who the school just feels it cannot deal with, yet, against all odds, with the backing of his parents, has enough self-motivation to do well even though everyone thought he couldn’t. I had the pleasure of knowing many bees.

    Your child is a unique blend of talents, personality, and ingredients nowhere else to be found. Some children are skilled intellectually, others are blessed emotionally, and many are born with creative ingenuity.

    Each child possesses their very own exclusive collection of gifts.

    The kids didn’t come with direction booklets.

    Effective parents are always learning, studying, and customizing the instructions for their individual child.

    Each and every child is as unique as their fingerprints; a sparkling diamond of unparalleled beauty.

    I know not what animal you think you are, or what analogy you might believe is apt.  I trust that whomever you are, you are uniquely amazing, analyzing and assessing your world as is best for you.

    In my own life, many a teacher has, unintentionally messed with my mind.  Some have done me a great service.  Others have obstructed my view of myself and the world.  A few were merely a filter.  Numerous are not memorable.  That too, I think is sad. 

    For me, what is more meaningful than learning reading, writing, or ‘rithmetic is the relationship.  I invite you to ponder my own perspective on the profession of education and our pupils.  Please read and reflect; share your thoughts after assessing Education Defined. Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing Personal Growth?

  • pdf Education Resources Information Center #ED489933 Education Defined. Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing Personal Growth? By Betsy L. Angert
  • pdf Education Defined. Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing Personal Growth? By Betsy L. Angert

    tags technorati : Education, Animal School, Love of Learnning, Emotional Intelligence, Teaching Standards