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Sunday, October 31, 2010

So you say you want a revolution

We need parents, grandparents, retired teachers and working teachers, and we need our neighbors to organized, speak out, write, fax, attending board of education meetings, protesting, and we need as many people as we can get to come to the ...Save Our Schools rally and teach-in next July 30th and 31 in Washington DC.
I believe in transformative action. This is a form of civil disobedience advocate by the great American writer Henry David Thoreau who wrote and advocated a call to “Civil Disobedience" for citizens dealing with unjust laws and taxes. The Rev Doctor Martin Luther King used it to inspire and change a nation. Gandhi used it to win independence for India. It was use to break the South African system of apartheid. The Danish use it to fight back in World War II to resist the Nazis.
I am calling for a return to that American principle of civil disobedience, and work to change this unjust NCLB law that hurts children, parents, teachers, and our local schools. It hurts children, because it is limited. Think of NCLB’s assessment focus as being a family photo album only allowing for only photos of the children doing the same thing over and over again. Who wants a photo of the same picture over and over again? This is madness, and unfair.
To me this means the target is Washington DC the birthplace of NCLB, the only place where it can be changed. If we change it in Washington we change it everywhere in the land.
However, civil disobedience is not only about being against something it is about being for something better. We need to argue for a balanced and fair assessment framework not just say the testing is wrong. Washington DC has removed balance assessment from our schools by making standardized test the only unquestionable measures, and making these measures the key to all funding.
My vision of a balanced and thorough assessment framework views academic achievement as a photo album of performance over time. It includes many pictures of a child’s progress from multiple performance indicators. It includes the voices of children, parents, and teachers in that album. Yes, I think children and parents should have a say in what goes into that photo album of performance. I do not oppose standardized tests they are included as well, but they are weigh no heavier or lighter than other assessment inputs.
Lets start talking about what parents, teachers, and students think should be included in a balanced assessment framework?

I am walking to DC again Jesse, but this time I am bringing some friends.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is lost under No Child Left Behind?

Well the battle against NCLB/RTTT continues, and I am still walking for change. Join me next July 30 and 31 for the Save Our Schools rally and teach-in at the American University in Washington DC. When you join the good fight you understand from the start that this is a life long fight. What better cause could I have then to make our leaders and policy makers understand that children are more than test scores, and so are their teachers.
Today I am going to evaluate the current education reform policies through the eyes of one of America's great thinkers from the "Greatest Generation" Mortimer J. Adler.

First and foremost in my humble opinion parents, teachers, and educators need to resist and fight these so-called education reform policies of NCLB!
As a man of conviction and strong faith I ask: What are Americans losing under the current education reforms of NCLB/RTTT? Readers be kind for today I am stepping outside my comfort zone.

Can we begin with an understanding that the current reforms promise that improvement of test scores will eliminate the achievement gap across race, special needs, poverty, urban, suburban, and rural communities. This model focuses on products, (test scores), and a system of rewards and punishments.  It does not provide equalizing resources, and therefore fails any measure of establishing equality in education. One could argue that NCLB/RTTT is actually rooted in Darwinism the strongest will survive.

I see no moral compass in the current reforms the reality is they are more of a swim or drown model of reform. The government is not here to assist your schools, but to police them by weeding out the weakest schools. NCLB/RTTT has no definition of what a well-educated person should be. They have numbers and standards, but no real definition of what being well-educated means. What we end up with is a public education system that defines a well-educated person as a passing test score. Conformity rules in this kind of model. We all take the same test, we are all fed the same curriculum, (something they are now seeking), we all read the same books, we all go to successful schools defined by high test scores. My god George Orwell, (author of 1984) couldn't have written this reform agenda any better.

This policy leaves me wondering where Mortimer J. Adler would stand on the notion of the current No Child Left Behind/Race To The Top policy? I grew up watching Mortimer on PBS television discussing the Great Books, and I remember taking them out of the library to read. They made me the man I am today. It was reading those books that called me to teaching, and those books that call me to this fight. 

Where are Mortimer’s six great ideas embedded within the current education reforms? Those six great ideas are (1) Truth, (2) Goodness,  (3) Beauty, (4) Liberty (5) Equality and (6) Justice.

I think Dr. Mortimer would question any educational reform model that allows competition to drive reform rather than by providing the means to make all schools good, just, and equal. He would not accept a model that in essence tells parents, teachers, and their schools swim, sink or close.

No Child Left Behind/Race To The Top fails Mortimer’s to meet any of Mortimer’s six-great ideas.

1. Truth: The Department of Education claims that parents have a choice of schools. One might say Mortimer would argue any choice based on a lottery is not much of a choice, but more a luck of the draw. There are only extremely limited choices for parents under this reform policy. NCLB/RTTT fails the truth test!

2. Goodness: The Department of Education insists that a business model based on competition is good for America. Mortimer would argue there is no goodness in a system that abandons public schools not making adequate yearly progress. He would insist the Department of Education should actively help schools make adequate yearly progress. NCLB/RTTT fails the goodness test.

3. Beauty: One could ask does a Department of Education reform model based on competition have beauty? Mortimer might argue rather than beauty the current education reforms place test scores in reading, writing, and math above art and music. After all the focus of NCLB is on only certain test scores. If you don’t test it do you need to really need to teach it? What happens if your school decides to eliminate art and music to focus on reading, writing, and math? Well there are no punitive measures in NCLB/RTTT for eliminating art and music, or for that matter physical education, history, geography, and science. Many schools have eliminated or reduce instruction time spent on art, music, phyiscal education, history, geography, and even science. The Department of Education loves to mention these other subjects, and often shows photo opts of children signing and dancing at charter schools, but have no punitive measures for schools that chose to eliminate or reduce any of the above subject other than reading, writing, and math. NCLB/RTTT fails the beauty test!

4. Liberty: The current Department of Education reform policies focus on policing, rewarding some schools and punishing others who do not measure up based on standardized test results. For Mortimer the major focus of education is preparation for the duties of living in freedom. He said: “Education for freedom cannot itself be instituted until the educators understand the principles of freedom, until they realize that freedom is not an end in itself, but a consequence of justice, and an affair of rights and duties.”  Mortimer only has to look to the professional development component of NCLB/RTTTNCLB/RTTT fails the liberty test!

 5. Equality: The Department of Education insists that an emphasis on standardized testing will weed out bad schools. Mortimer would argue standardized testing is too narrow to develop thinkers and citizens who will be responsible for the future of democracy. Mortimer said "In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you." To Mortimer the man behind “The Great Books” movement the numerical measures of facts learned from books misses the point that some books change us for the better. Any education reform that does not make serious attempts at providing all schools with equitable resources is unjust. NCLB/RTTT fails the equality test!

6. Justice: This test is a simple. Does a law merely named No Child Left Behind that leaves millions of children behind really just? This one I am certain Dr. Mortimer would insist fails the justice test completely. Telling parents justice is coming is justice for some, and justice denied for others.  Justice administered by lottery is no more than justice denied. NCLB/RTTT fails the justice test! 

Returning to my original question about: What are Americans losing under the current education reforms of NCLB/RTTT?
In 1940, (still in print) Dr. Mortimer wrote “How to read a book”. He said, "A good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable - books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life."

When education reform focuses solely on standardized testing books become isolated information that may or may not produce higher test scores. I said may or may not because after nearly a decade there is no real data to suggest the current reforms have produce higher test scores. While you may be learn to read you may not learn how to read a book from Dr. Mortimer's point of view. What are we losing? We are losing the opportunity to focus on making future generation deeply aware of the great truths of human life.

Silence and apathy are not acceptable when it comes to America’s children.
I am walking to DC again,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Another parent phone call

I had a call last night from a mother of Eddie a 7-year old boy whose son is not reading at his DRA benchmark. She explained Eddie has been coming home crying almost every day this year. Dr. Turner he has to read for 30 minutes every night, and he cries the whole time. After he goes to sleep I cry. He cries, because he hates reading now. We use to read together for hours every night. Then somewhere in the middle of first grade it became a chore. Everything changed last spring. Now I cry, because reading breaks my boy’s heart. You can’t do anything in life if you can’t read. I think he could catch up, but they need to give a rest from all this testing first.
Next she told me his friend show him his DRA score on the wall of the faculty/parents meeting room. So the other boy tells him you S__k in reading, and they are going to leave you back this year.  Look you are the worst boy in our class. You are so stupid Eddie.
Well, he decided to punch, kick, and bite that other 7-year old boy, and so his mother was called into school. Well they suggested anger management for her son. She certainly does not endorse his behavior she explains, and indicates she will work on his anger problem. She explains this reading issue has totally demoralized him, and now it looks like it is demonizing him as well. Now his mother wanted to discuss why his scores are up on the wall for public viewing. She wanted to discuss how weeks of reading testing is adding to his dislike of reading. However, none of this would be discussed at the meeting. She tried, but was told we are not here to talk about his reading today. We are here to discuss his behavior. So Eddie’s mother leaves, and drives home in tears.
We talk for over an hour I calm her down, and say bring him to the Literacy Center in the spring we’ll work on his reading. Later on that evening I shed a few tears of my own, because this stuff doesn’t ever seem to end under NCLB. I remember another time, when 6-year olds and 7-year olds use to be allowed to have a childhood. There was a time when our Children were more than test scores, and certainly more than data on a school wall.  
This is madness, this is wrong, who are these people who are doing this to our children.  Do they really believe all this testing is making children enjoy reading? At Eddie’s school last year they spent nearly 12 weeks on testing, or practicing for their test. Come on people he was six years old old!
We need a revolution against this assault on childhood. This won’t stop until our policy makers and politicians hear from us that “Children are more than test scores.”  I am going to the “Save Our Schools” March in Washington DC next July 30th and 31.  Silence and apathy are not acceptable.
I am walking to DC again,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Time to start blogging about my journey again.
So the so called savoirs of public schools have come to save us! How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders.

For me it has always come down to a law, (NCLB) that lacked any moral compass from the start. The sole indicators to measure academic success under NCLB are test scores on standardized measures.
In some bizarre manner NCLB claimed to be focused on closing the achievement gap while effectively taking the focus off equity issues, and shifted the focus to outcomes on standardized testing as public schooling savoir. Policy makers, politicians, and many of our educational leadership are no longer focused on issues of race, poverty, and those “Savage inequalities that Jonathon Kozal so effectively wrote about. Testing is seen as the means to ending inequality. So rather than deal with the real issues leadership points fingers of blame to everyone, but themselves.
This lack of any moral compass is what moved me outside my academic role into the arena of activism. This past summer I walked 400 miles in 40 days as part of protest against NCLB/RTTT. I started walking in Connecticut, and ended my walk in Washington DC at the American University. Along the way I met with parents, teachers, administrators, authors, and community members. Not one person along the way felt the current education reform policy is having a positive effect on learning and teaching in their local schools. Educators reported that up to 3-months of the school year is being spent on testing. Testing is not teaching, and this merely results in a major loss of instructional time. Parents reported the pressures of all this testing is increasingly resulting in children who no longer like school. This is why I will return to Washington DC next July 30 & 31 2011 to participate in the SOS Million Teachers March and Teach-in at the American University. I am asking a nation of parents, teachers, and activists to join me in a one million miles protest walk. People can walk, ride, or skateboard, in preparation for next July rally and teach-in. I need 2000 people to walk 500 over the next 8 months. People can email me their weekly totals for posting on our facebook page "Children Are More Than Test Scores". 
Take a stand against this insane reform policy join us in the resistance to the mental slavery of NCLB/RTTT 
Dr. Jesse Turner
Creator of the facebook group Children Are More Than Test Scores.
PS: For a critical response to their manifesto read Professor Kevin Weiner's piece "Manifesto should be resignation letter.

In the meantime I am walking a million miles to protest this madness called NCLB.