Truly, Diane Ravitch is an amazing woman — no matter what side of the education reform movement you are on, you must admit this. She is 74 years old and blogs about 10 times a day, runs all over the country defending public education and helping to build morale for an industry being brutally attacked, and still finds time work on a book. Since she started her blog last April, I have learned so much from her.
I mentioned in a post this morning that I had received a letter form the Anti-Defamation League warning that comments on my blog displayed "insensitivity" and that I should take this opportunity to warn readers about the dangers of "hurtful analogies," especially in referring to Hitler and the Holocaust.
A reader wonders if he was the one who wrote the comment that was reported as offensive to the Anti-Defamation League:
A reader submitted this post:
It tells the now-familiar story of how an unwary person was conned by Michelle Rhee's Students First. The reader was going through her email, and along came a "puppies-and-kittens" petition from Change.org, and "Click!"
Too late: "And suddenly, there it was…the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Trojan horse of all Trojan horses: Join the Fight to Save Great Teachers…
I got to meet Diane Ravitch today as she served on a panel at Netroots about the war on public education. She spoke with amazing authority about what is going on in public education now with the overemphasis on testing, the blaming of teachers and teachers unions, and the right-wing money that is being poured into the movement for “education reform.” The best way to experience what went on is to watch the video.
Michelle Rhee has a perpetual scowl. Michael Bloomberg wears a long face. Bill Gates is always berating kids to grow up. I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but you would think it could at least provide the down payment.
Even after their recent victory here in New York City, where they can now publicize each teacher’s “value added” data, it is a sure bet that they will stick to their curmudgeonly ways.
This update is from Cranston School Committee member Steve Stycos:
The Cranston Middle School Study Committee is considering whether to move the sixth grade back to elementary schools. The committee has met about six times, but no decisions have been made. The administration, which proposed moving the sixth grade to elementary schools, has examined classroom space and scheduling changes that would result from the move.
According to their proposal, all current elementary schools could house the sixth grade except Barrows, Waterman, Woodridge and Gladstone. By utilizing empty classrooms and converting rooms now used exclusively for art and music, the sixth grade would fit. For this plan to work, according to the administration, two portable classrooms would be moved to Arlington to accommodate all the kindergarten students who would normally attend Gladstone. When those children are ready for first grade, they would move to Gladstone. In the same way, Waterman kindergartners would attend Garden City and then go to Waterman until sixth grade. Due to its small size, Barrows indergartners and first graders would have to attend Edgewood Highland before going to Barrows. In addition, a portable classroom would be added at Woodridge to handle the sixth grade.
The study committee includes three school committee members (Deb Greifer (Ward 2), Andrea Iannazzi (Ward 5) and me (Ward 1)), three parents (Barbara Gordon, Anne Marie Simeone and Tammy Donley), two administrators (assistant superintendent Peter Nero and Park View principal Jay DeCristofaro), two teachers’ union representatives (union vice president Liz Larkin and Park View technology teacher Ken Bowling) and one parent alternate (Mike Stanton). School committee chairman Mike Traficante has also attended most of the meetings.
The committee will be meeting November 13, 20 & 27 at 7 PM in the Briggs Building conference room. All meetings are open to the public. We hope to make a recommendation to the school committee at its December 12 meeting. No school committee vote would be taken, however, until the December 17 meeting. We will certainly have public comment at the December 17 meeting and perhaps December 12 also.
Most likely, I will support the administration’s plan because I think smaller schools work better than larger schools. Middle school enrollment has declined slightly in recent years, but currently stands at 781 at Park View, 711 at Bain and 1128 at Western Hills.
I also worry that without a shift of students to the elementary schools there will be financial pressure to close more elementary schools and spend millions to expand our middle schools. Elementary schools are key links in neighborhoods that should be preserved. Finally, I think many elementary school students, perhaps most, would be better served by spending another year in smaller more personal elementary schools.
The administration supports the shift to sixth grade to save money. We have yet to receive any details, however. At a minimum, we would be able to eliminate one assistant principal at each middle school, saving more than $300,000 a year. The teachers’ union representatives are critical of the proposed shift of sixth grade. Their primary concerned appears to be possible job losses.
I am concerned about a number of aspects of the plan:
1) Barrows children going to Edgewood Highland for kindergarten and first grade: Barrows unfortunately has a lot of small rooms which are too small for classrooms. I have asked the administration to look at the possibility of moving some walls to create another class room. If this is possible, then only the kindergarten would need to go to Edgewood and the Head Start program could stay at Edgewood. If not, Head Start may have to move to Bain.
2) Population projections: At my request, the administration has asked the planning department to make population projections. Ignoring these projections can be very expensive. In 2001, the school committee and superintendent Catherine Ciarlo refused to scale back the Orchard Farms design, despite population projections that such a monstrous school was not needed. Today the school has six classrooms that are empty or used for other things. Hope Highlands, the overcrowded school that caused
Orchard Farms to be built, now also has six available classrooms. The administration’s plan may work for the next few years, but we need to be sure there is not a population increase coming that will make the plan unworkable in the longer term.
3) Teacher training. The committee has yet to discuss how middle school teachers who are transferred to elementary schools will be retrained.
4) Middle school curriculum: Previously, the school committee voted to approve Superintendent Rick Scherza’s recommendation that middle school students study a foreign language four days a week. This issue is not directly related to the sixth grade issue, but also needs to be watched. A four day a week middle school language program will be a tremendous and long overdue improvement. (The current program is two days a week and as a result children learn next to no foreign language as a result.)
I urged the administration, however, to look at allowing children other options in seventh and eighth grades. Some children may want to take a language, others may be better served by taking more art, music, technology or family and consumer science classes. The administration plans to offer a supplemental reading class to children who are two grade levels behind in reading (approximately ten to fifteen percent of all students at Bain and Park View), but no decision has been made on other options.
5) Tracking and underrepresented groups: Once we finish with the sixth grade issue, the committee will examine secondary school groupings and the low number of boys and minorities in the high classes. Last year, for example, Cranston East was 8 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic and 49 percent male. Of the 174 students taking Honors English, however, only one was black and seven were Hispanic. Only 30 percent were males. At
West, which has a small minority population, only 22 percent of the Honors English students were male. Numbers are similar for others honors class. I have asked the administration for more information so we can discuss the issue in the future.
There has been no talk of “detracking” middle school classes like the administration attempted this spring.
This issue has been discussed on an email list for the elementary school PTO that my daughter attends. People are worried about possible overcrowding at our school, although we have more space than some other schools. I am glad the administration is attempting to do population projections, as difficult as it might be. One note: as I looked at my daughter’s third grade class picture, I could only find a handful of children whom she had shared other grades with. The population of our area changes quickly, I think partly because there are a lot of duplex rentals. But also, people of every background and income level move in and out of the community. So the idea that you want your child to be in one school for the entirety of their elementary education so that they have the consistency of the same classmates is a bit illusory. In all likelihood they will have mostly different peers each year, plus the remixing of the rooms between the two or three teachers in every grade. The consistency that will make their education quality does not come from the building they are in — it can be provided by a good team of educators in one place one year and another place the next and the education can still maintain its quality and consistency.
But I appreciate how difficult it might be for parents who are facing this decision directly this coming year, and I invite you to comment below in order to try to move toward solutions that protect the quality of education for our children.
Just the other day, President Bush stood in the White House Rose Garden and urged Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In so doing, he emphasized that schools must be held “accountable.” Broadly speaking, Mr. Bush is right. Institutions that serve the public and play a vital role in the health and well-being of local communities and the nation at large should, in some measure, be held to task. Of course, the devil is in the details, and there is much difference of opinion about what it means to be held accountable.
The irony of Mr. Bush’s words is that he demands a level of accountability from others that he is not held to himself, thanks to both the neoconservative cohorts who guard his flanks and the members of Congress who, in effect, kiss his flanks (when Senator Lieberman makes room for them to do so). Despite the many egregious and unlawful actions of this President, he remains undeservedly in office and has largely escaped accountability, court of public opinion notwithstanding. The aforementioned irony has presumably escaped him, as well. (Indeed, one may speculate that this former C student believes irony to be either an artificial leg joint or the purview of the White House laundry staff.)
Another irony that has likely escaped Mr. Bush is that, while he trumpets that no child should be left behind, he simultaneously vetoes legislation (SCHIP) that does just that! Apparently, it is acceptable for children to be left without health care coverage but unacceptable for these same children, who may attend school with untreated physical or psychological maladies, to test poorly. Where is the justice or good sense in that?
And that brings to mind the issue of climate change. Children typically occupy two climates, home and school. Both these locales occupy the broader climate of a community. If a child’s home or community is a harsh climate, i.e., if it lacks sufficient stability or nurturance (as, for example, occurs when violence or substance abuse or neglect is pervasive), the child will likely suffer in some fashion. When they change climates and go to school, they bring with them not only their backpacks and lunches but also their weathered selves. How they subsequently perform in that setting has as much, if not more, to do with the nature and quality of the outside climates to which they are regularly exposed (and must daily return) than with the greenhouse-like climate of the school. It is patently unfair to expect schools to make up for these disparate and disadvantageous circumstances, over which they have limited, if any, control. Blaming schools for failures that principally occur elsewhere makes no more sense than shooting the uniformed messenger who delivers tragic news.
A child’s day begins and ends at home. If the President and Congress sincerely aim to ensure that no child is left behind, then they must look beyond the schools and somehow address the other climates that are influential in the lives of children. A failure to do so is just another painful kick in the iron knee.
This editorial from The Washington Post highlights concerns raised in an earlier post about the consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act. The Washington Post piece suggests that our best learners are not getting cultivated in the public schools, creating a snowball effect of talented students moving toward private education. From WaPo:
[...] Perhaps if more policymakers sent their children to public schools they would address these unintended but disastrous consequences of No Child. Rather than trying to rectify this situation, however, many politicians advocate a voucher program that would only encourage more parents to desert public education.
Some politicians justify vouchers with the Orwellian claim that taking money from public schools to pay private tuition will improve the public schools by forcing them to compete for students. This claim is absurd given the uneven playing field between public and private schools.
Most obviously, private schools can reject any student who would require extra time from teachers. Thus it is left to public schools to handle children with behavior problems or severe learning impairments, and non-English speakers. Until private schools receiving vouchers are required to accept all applicants, vouchers simply allow them to cherry-pick public school students, giving them an insurmountable competitive edge.
Ironically, the private schools to which President Bush and his allies are so anxious to hand public funds are also exempt from the standardized testing these politicians declare to be the critical measure of educational success. Private schools need not impose upon their students the drudgery of preparing for and taking weeks of standardized tests and can offer an enriching curriculum beyond the basics without worrying about No Child sanctions. Given these one-sided constraints, no one could honestly claim that vouchers do anything but drain resources from the public schools this act was supposed to improve.
In adopting the No Child law, Congress finally addressed the shameful neglect of students in failing schools, particularly inner-city schools. Now it must address the fact that the requirements it imposed are driving away many of the concerned and involved parents critical to our ailing public school system. [full text]
It’s heartening to see that some school districts are beginning to more openly challenge some of the more unreasonable demands foisted upon them by the No Child Left Behind Act. From the Associated Press (via the Boston Globe):
RICHMOND, Va. –Officials in some high-immigrant school districts are threatening to defy a federal law that requires all children to take the same reading tests, even those struggling to learn English.
This month, the U.S. Department of Education threatened sanctions against Virginia — including the possibility of withholding funds — if the state doesn’t enforce the provision, which is part of the No Child Left Behind law.
The Virginia Department of Education had sought an exemption for another year, contending that the rule is unfair.
Immigrants who have been in the U.S. a short time “are simply unable to take a test written in English and produce results that are meaningful in any way,” said Donald J. Ford, superintendent of the Harrisonburg city school division.
The federal government denied the state’s request, saying Virginia has known about the act’s guidelines for some time and have had time to prod schools into compliance.
The five-year-old federal law is scheduled to be rewritten this year, and lawmakers have said they will try to change the rules for recent immigrants and special-education students. The aim is to inject more common sense into the law while sticking with its promise to leave no child behind his or her peers. [full text]
Issues discussed in the interview include: the Iraq War and Senator Reed’s response to the President’s current plan, Senator Reed’s plan going forward in conjunction with Senator Levin, the Biden-Gelb plan and its feasibility, concerns regarding the long-term effects of war on American military service personnel, including PTSD, and whether our VA’s are funded to handle the issues, health care and the crisis of the uninsured, Senator Reed’s efforts to fund SCHIP for the state of Rhode Island, the medicare prescription drug benefit and Reed’s support of the proposed changes, education funding from the national level and fulfilling the promise to fund special education under IDEA, addressing the national deficit by stopping the President’s tax cuts, funding alternative energy projects in the US. The interview is approximately 22 minutes long.