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what i meant to say was....

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"I am a gardener." Chance, the gardener.

November 09, 2007

Why is George Miller in such a twist about funding?

"The President proved, yet again, that he is not serious about creating a world-class public education system. He thinks he can have his education legacy on the cheap. He is profoundly mistaken." --Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee


Whoa...The man is obviously upset. But let's try to imagine why. And let's try to imagine how with everything that is WRONG about NCLB, he is so EXTREMELY upset about the funding aspect.

First, I remind you that this is a man who has consistently lent a deaf ear to the citizens who tried to appeal to him about the damages and destruction since NCLB policy began corrupting education in our classrooms.

But, that is because he probably had to protect the interests of his more powerful and wealthier friends.

You see, George Miller's "friends," or the folks he is looking after in this speech can be found at:


Contributors to the George Miller Campaign:

Jerald Barnett
Education America / Owner

Thomas Bishop
University of Phoenix / VP

Deborah Blackwell
Touro University / Provost & Dean

Cynthia Braddon
McGraw-Hill Companies / VP

Eli Broad
Broad Foundation / Founder

Kathryn Costello
Pearson Education Publishing

Larry Diamond
Hoover Institute

William Etheridge
Pearson Education, CEO

Lawrence Goodman
School Link Technologies, President

Henry Howard
US Education Finance Corp., President

John Isley
Pearson Education / Publisher

Richard Jerue
Education Mgmt Corp / VP Govt. Relat.

William Jordan
McGraw-Hill Companies / Senior Director

Joseph Kakaty
Student Loan Consolidation Center

Hendrik Kranenburg
McGraw-Hill / President Higher

Bonnie Lieberman
John Wylie & Sons Publishing / SVP

Patricia McAllister
Educational Testing Service / Govern

Lowell Milken
Knowledge Universe Ltd. / Business

Arnold Mitchem
Council for Opportunity in Educ/PR

Jacqueline Pels
Hardscratch Press / Editor / Publisher

Richard Robinson
Scholastic Inc. / President & CEO

John Sargent
Holtzbrinck Publisher / CEO

Larry Snowhite
Houghton Mifflin Company / VP Govern

And, as you can see, some of George Miller's " friends" are also, very obviously the OTHER George's friends--that is what makes this all SO INTERESTING. These are the folks who have made ENORMOUS amounts of money, riding high on the tide of NCLB. These people represent the companies that are fattened up and belching after a 6 year 12 course meal made up of spoiled opportunities for our children and their teachers.

If many people were paying attention to the waste of money, the enormous windfall into the pockets of these sleezy companies for the pathetic quality of their product, there might be an audible and national gasp; there ought to be.

I am wheezing.

October 24, 2007

Most recent letter to our local paper

What can I say..I am back.

Letter to the Editor
The Capital
Annapolis, MD

The band standing and posturing of the school board and administration over the future of Public Education in our county is still regrettably off the mark. These groups could, perhaps, accomplish something remarkable, if they would stop giving speeches and listen to the voices of the people they are supposed to serve.

No dedicated professional teacher finds the current state of affairs in our schools acceptable. The demands on these teachers have been increasingly devastating and destructive to their ability to teach. Changing schools into specialized factories with fancy names won't help. We are looking at yet another marketing facade, the impact of which will add more strain to a struggling system.

Students from our youngest through high school age, of every academic caliber, race, and cultural background are cheated by our county's compliance with standardization and the testing compulsions of NCLB structure. The business model suits no child in our county or our nation adequately because children, students, teachers are not product. Our students and our teachers deserve better than to be delivered education manufactured in a model dedicated to a powerful business interest and political posturing.

It is time to stop the never ending imposition of change in our schools and examine the quality of the existing changes. It is time to understand what parents, students and teachers are experiencing. The changes since NCLB have caused a great deal more harm than good in our schools.

Governor O'Malley should remember his promises at his Inaugural Youth Forum. Parents, students, and their teachers spoke passionately about the negative impact of county and state compliance with NCLB. You said you understood. You promised to help. When?

Stop the charade and begin the process of saving our public schools.

Online with Jay Mathews on AP

Here it is in case you missed it...a limited but at least it got there "discussion" with Jay Mathews.

A Smart Parent Criticizes AP

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 23, 2007; 8:06 PM

Last week Pomona College president David Oxtoby tried to educate me in this column about what he sees as the flaws of the Advanced Placement program, the college-level courses and tests given in high school of which I am American journalism's biggest supporter. This column will look at AP from the perspective of a well-informed parent in Anne Arundel County, Md., who thinks the program has fallen prey to the worst aspects of the movement to make public schools accountable through regular testing.

I was pretty aggressive with Oxtoby, since I know him well and figure he is used to being disrespected by self-important reporters. In the discussion below, I am much more polite to Anne E. Levin Garrison, since she is under no obligation to talk to me and has a very personal perspective that even a know-it-all like me has to respect. Part of this column's role as asource of information on AP, International Baccalaureate and other efforts to improve our high schools is my insistence that it be the most important forum for criticism of AP and IB. So I am thankful to both Oxtoby and Garrison for helping me fulfill that obligation and hope other critics will email me when they have something to say.

Garrison is a contributing guest editor at susanohanian.org, the Web site of one of my favorite tormentors, the irrepressible Susan Ohanian, and a freelance writer on issues in education and modern culture. Garrison has two daughters, lives near Annapolis and has been studying the impact of evolving local and federal policy on public schools for more than 14 years. Her areas of special interest include the effects of what she refers to as the No Child Left Behind-endorsed AP explosion on public school education; the destructive impact of NCLB policy on public school curriculum, teaching and learning; and the results and impact of NCLB policy on the emotional health and academic welfare of public school teachers and their students.

Here we go. Mostly I am asking her questions about her point of view, with a bit from me on my contrary opinions toward the end of the column.

Mathews: So, Annie, tell me what first happened with your girls that inspired your concern about AP?

Garrison: Thanks for inviting me into this conversation, Jay.

My eldest daughter signed up for AP European History, at that time still the first AP class a sophomore could take. The class was as large as every other class and included every kind of student. Over the summer, many weeks of reading and identification assignments (defining important terms and concepts and people) were required.

The teacher was newly recruited to teach the class to accommodate the school's expanded AP offerings. She had little knowledge of European history and little training prior to the class. I cannot fault this teacher for not being adequately prepared to handle this assignment. But the class, as you can imagine, was a very poor substitute for the lofty experience described on the College Board Web site.

The class did not satisfy our goal to provide our child with an "advanced learning opportunity" but rather operated in almost total devotion to the test. That meant that my daughter's desire to actually "learn" the content of a European history class was destroyed. In the process, while she juggled the painful demands of endless homework for this class, she struggled to meet similar demands of the rest of her schedule.

Mathews: Are you saying students did not suffer from having novice, under-trained teachers before there was AP and IB?

Garrison: Nope...But what I am saying is this: Since the NCLB-mandated AP expansion, the numbers of students "encouraged" to take AP classes and the number enrolled have both rapidly grown. The first year our county expanded AP, the number of students in AP in our school alone doubled. The push to expand has since grown faster and larger. The numbers in IB programs have gone from zero to 3 times that in our county in 3 years. With a mounting teacher shortage, the number of AP qualified teachers by the law of averages is compromised.

What I am also saying is this: The quality of the AP class is compromised by the amount of teachers recruited to accommodate the growth of the expansion who are not adequately trained nor experienced to teach a college level class. There might always be novice and untrained teachers, but a reasonable expectation would be to use experienced, trained and seasoned professionals to teach an advanced class.

By the way, when did AP or IB become the only game in town for advanced opportunity in public school? A hint: since NCLB. Again, you cannot dissect out the issue of quality; and there is a lot to question on the quality of many AP classes.

Mathews: And you think No Child Left Behind was one of the reasons why the AP course was so weak?

Garrison: Absolutely. The expansion of AP classes was built into NCLB. That fact is no surprise as the overall impact of NCLB is a generalized devotion to high stakes testing. The focus of AP classes rarely varies from instruction on test content, test format and test preparation. AP classes, in the context of NCLB are more likely to teach basic skills, and underemphasize problem-solving and complex thinking skills that are not well assessed on standardized tests.

Understanding that NCLB has colored every aspect of how our public schools operate in five short years is key. The rapid expansion of the AP program is one more casualty of the act.

Mathews: Was there any Document-Based Question work at all in this history class?

Garrison: Keep in mind, Jay, that teachers who have been teaching AP classes for a while, especially if they started before the NCLB-precipitated expansion, have had the time and experience to prepare and execute a learning opportunity for a prepared classroom of students.

With the expansion came a rapid influx of teachers and students with varying degrees of interest, skills and preparation. Programs have been quickly developed to accommodate the impact of the expansion and one of the more successful ones is a parallel seminar to teach skills such as how to answer Document-Based Questions (DBQ.)

Mathews: Exactly how many hours did your daughters meet each week with their AP teachers, and how many of those hours were devoted, as you say, to test taking? And who was keeping count?

Garrison: In seminar, the students met two to three days a week for an hour and a half and my daughter estimates that nearly 100% of that time was spent on test-taking skills. On alternate days she attended the AP class where the class was devoted primarily to content, because nearly all of the students were in seminar.

Mathews: What does she mean by "test taking skills." Paint us a picture. Tell us exactly what was going on. Was the teacher putting up sample questions and asking for answers? Was she giving them DBQs and asking them to answer, then having students read their answers? One person's test prep is another person's well-thought out review, so we need to know what exactly happened.

Garrison: Simpler than that; they were primarily taking review tests from the College Board Web site. They do that all semester long.

Mathews: So they each sat at a computer and had the questions scored automatically, or did the teacher hand out printouts? Were the questions discussed in class, or was this all silent work?

Garrison: Mostly they worked on sample DBQ's. They wrote answers and compared them with already scored tests. This particular teacher does a good job of presenting discussion to increase test scores.

But again, the focus is on becoming better at answering tests in a manner that reflects the generally assumed style of the test scorer. What is taught is that content is not the priority if you can use a certain set of test tricks or methods that appeal to the test-scorers methods.

Mathews: Are you saying that a good answer to an AP Document-Based Question is nothing but a bunch of tricks, and requires no knowledge of the subject matter, no experience in writing clear sentences, and no practice in analyzing complex materials?

Garrison: A good answer on an AP test DBQ is more of a trick than you would like to believe. It requires little depth of knowledge of the subject, not too much writing ability beyond the basic BCR or ECR format that is taught almost universally in our public schools, and requires LOTS of practice.

The practice, unfortunately, in the current expanded version of AP is not really about learning to analyze complex materials. There is hardly time for that; it is rather about getting used to the style of testing and test scoring and making an effort to follow a formulaic response that is generally graded favorably by the scorers.

Mathews: So how would you like to change things?

Garrison: I will give you my ideal. In the best of worlds, without the pervasive interference of NCLB, AP classes would exist as an opportunity for students who desire an accelerated or advanced academic experience. It would not be built into a federal intrusion to triple enrollment in math and science courses or increase AP attendance in general. In this manner, AP would exist once again as one option of several and it could spark an interest by the College Board to improve on and fix some of the characteristic problems endemic to the expansion and monopoly.

The schools might consider an accelerated academic track for students wishing to take advanced classes. In this way, students would have the opportunity to become prepared with a foundation class. As it is now, and according College Board data, almost half of all AP physics test takers had no prior experience with physics before enrolling in the AP course. Thus, the AP course had to cover both a year of high school physics and a year of college physics, making in-depth examination of any topic nearly impossible.

Mathews: How would you change AP?

Garrison: The goal and purpose of AP should satisfy either college preparatory goals or college credit goals, not both. If the purpose is to provide college credit, the test should be aligned with the school year so that the last 2 weeks to a month of class time is not wasted. Accommodations should be made to realistically match the general graduation requirements of the school so that students are not taking an impossible load of classes. In college, students generally take a load of four classes, in high school, they generally take seven or eight. One or two college-level classes would provide an appropriate challenge for a high school student, and accommodations could include a separate study skills class to provide appropriate preparation and the skills for college-level mastery.

I would like to see the offerings at our high schools reflect the real needs of the students, not the artificial needs of a business or corporate ideal. Flexibility is key for any good high school program. If students left out of the college prep programs are to be encouraged to participate, these students deserve accommodations targeted for their level of skills and preparation. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a good example of such a program. Students are given the skills and support to effectively encourage them to rise to higher levels of mastery and can ultimately participate in advanced study.

Not all high school students fit the model of preparation or readiness for a college-level class, but all students could be given the opportunity in high school to prepare themselves for the experience of future college classes.

Mathews: I was at an AVID conference on Sunday. They were delighted to hear that the strengths of their program, now in 3,500 middle and high schools across the country, is something you and I agree on. AVID could be called, in a way, AP prep. So how would you improve the teaching of the actual AP courses, given your daughters' experience?

Garrison: The current AP class, since expansion, necessitates superficial treatment of most topics, with the emphasis on memorization of terms and facts rather than in-depth exploration and understanding, and the AP exam tests rote memorization more than in-depth understanding. This is a liability for teachers as well as students. Teaching is reduced to a race to prepare students with a limited scope of content prescribed by the test. Teachers require adequate training, experience, and preparation, as well as ongoing support in order to provide the best quality college-level or college-prep experiences for their students. Appropriate decisions should be made on a district or county level to deal with the overall shortages of teachers as well as the rarity of specialized teachers with an advanced degree in subject areas. It is common sense that an advanced or college-level course should be taught by a thoroughly prepared teacher. If the school does not have the ability to find appropriate resources, such as credentialed teachers, the menu should reflect that reality.

Your concept of raising the bar to encourage growth could apply here. If schools want to become premier institutions for early college-level credit, administrative dedication to a quality program could create an inspirational opportunity for appropriately trained teachers to take these positions. And if the College Board wants to continue to be the premier provider for quality academic advancement in high schools, it would benefit them to make adjustments to their existing programs to reflect both the reality in the high schools and the quality of these courses. The possibilities are endless.

Mathews: Thanks very much. Many of these are good ideas, but I am afraid you are wrong, based on not having the time or opportunity to see how AP works in other schools, on two points. First, the rise of AP has almost nothing to do with NCLB. Indeed, the Bush administration put some AP incentives in the act, but Democratic senators like Jeff Bingaman had won approval of similar legislation years before NCLB. The vast majority of high school principals would laugh at you if you suggested their AP numbers were climbing because the Bushies told them to pump up AP. They are climbing because AP teachers are welcoming more kids into their classes, having seen the good their classes do even for average kids, and because the most selective colleges are virtually requiring some AP or IB. Once you have time to visit other schools that will be clear to you.

Second, I am sorry that your daughters had such a poor experience in their AP classes, but based on visits to more than 100 AP schools over the years, and interviews with hundreds of AP teachers, what happened to them is very uncharacteristic. The teachers I have seen in action are imaginative, thoughtful and would be as angry as you are at any teaching style that promoted memorization rather than understanding. The college professors and high school teachers who write and grade the AP exams would reject your notion that those exams are all about rote memorization, and that writing a DBQ is little more than learning some tricks that have not much to do with content and concepts. The way the European history exam is set up, for instance, a student can get the highest grade, a 5, if she does well on the free response questions, even if she misses more than half of the multiple choice questions which are thought to be so dependent on memorization.

Garrison: Don't misunderstand me. My daughters have had wonderful teachers in high school. What students and teachers are experiencing here since the AP expansion is not rare or unique. Misuse of statistics and false presumptions are tools used to support the current implementation of NCLB policy. The general compromise of quality and the narrowed focus on test-based accountability changed our classrooms. Our experiences are the reality behind the statistical "measures of progress" in our schools.

NCLB is at the root of this expansion. AP has suffered in quality, as every aspect of teaching and learning has suffered.

My daughters have had some good experiences in AP classes too. The problems are built into the structure of the AP class and worsened by expansion. These teachers do rally to give students an advanced academic experience despite the shallow breadth, broad scope, and prescript format of these courses. Teachers struggle to prepare hundreds of variously capable students to pass tests which dually function as data for "accountability" as well as for college admission. The teachers are angry at the quality of these advanced classes but they have no control, no flexibility and no alternatives, so they do the best they can.

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute.

More on AP

One of my friends had an experience that lends a lot of insight into the pressures the teachers feel under these ridiculous and desperate initiatives developed to give the appearance of "progress" but with no REAL substance...

Not unique, unfortunately, but this is true: the student received A's on her report cards straight through the year. Evidentally, the pressure to "prove" herself has the teacher giving A's to everyone who shows any effort. The downside of the generous grading for the classroom overall is that the A has no meaning when it is used to qualify such a broad range of effort, depth, etc...

BUT, to the parent and student, THIS is confusing and frustrating since by the end of a straight A year, the student was only able to earn a very LOW test score on the AP exam.

Whoa--Now, this class, remember, is taught, TAUGHT with ONE goal in mind: THE TEST. And, at Back to School Night there are PROMISES that parents will save THOUSANDS of dollars because their kids take these classes...And they are PROMISED that there kids will get a 3 or better on the exams...

BUT evidentally, and really quite tellingly, MANY students DO NOT get the grades they wanted....Now, the debate about this is complex--but don't buy the crap about "just taking the class is going to make a difference.." because that is a sales pitch. My feeling is: either the class merits having the moniker of ADVANCED and is carried out with adequate preparation to be called advanced or it is not...

And don't underestimate the results of scamming the student in this manner...The student DOES understand what is going on and "learns" some very important lessons about dishonesty, about honor, about economics, and about the value of children in a business-based political structure...

Here's a report in the press:



More taking the AP tests
Percentage scoring high enough to get college credits declines, however
By Ruma Kumar

sun reporter

September 9, 2007

Significantly more Anne Arundel County high school students are taking Advanced Placement tests, but a smaller proportion of them are scoring high enough on the rigorous exams to earn college credit, according to numbers released by the school system.

The number of students who took AP tests in the spring jumped 22 percent, but the percentage scoring 3 or higher on the 5-point scale fell at 11 of the 12 high schools.

The data released last week reflect the school system's effort to boost the number of college-level courses offered and the enrollment in them, along with critics' concerns that unprepared students are forcing teachers to water down the material.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said that whether or not students earn high scores on the AP tests, the increased participation is laying the groundwork for success in college.

"Data shows that students who take the exams, even if they score a 1 or a 2, are more successful in college than those students who don't take the exams or who don't take AP courses at all," Maxwell said Friday in a statement. "I am very, very encouraged by the increases we've seen."

The number of students taking AP courses and tests has increasingly become a measure of high school quality and rigor and is part of a mathematical formula used in national indices to rank high schools.

Some high schools have beefed up their AP offerings to 30 courses, said Barbara Zelley, the system's coordinator of gifted, talented and advanced programs.

Across the system, the number of test-takers in the 2006-2007 school year rose by 719, to 3,952. The biggest increase was at North County High, where 205 students took the test, compared with 135 last year.

"Everything that we know about the global economy and world markets and what students need to know and be able to do in the 21st century requires us to equip them with better math, science and technology," Zelley said. "It's all about rigor."

With a national military base realignment process expected to bring thousands of high-tech jobs to the area, school officials have encouraged greater enrollment in higher-level math and science courses. The system also has coaxed more students to take the test by setting aside $250,000 to help families afford the exams, which cost $83 apiece. With each push, officials mention data showing that those who take AP courses and tests are more likely to finish college in four years than those who don't.

"I think part of [the system's] goal is to force kids to do more work, get more actively involved in their own education, take risks they might not have taken," said Tim Menutti, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

Among students, AP tests are popular because the students can earn college credits and speed up their freshman year. Yet the most recent data show that a smaller percentage of Anne Arundel students are scoring high enough to do so. The tests are graded on a 1-to-5 scale, with a score of 3 or higher allowing students to earn college credit.

At Chesapeake High School, 58 percent of the students scored 3 or higher, compared with 75 percent in the previous school year.

At Severna Park High, 66 percent of students scored 3 or higher, compared with 78 percent the year before.

The lower scores have caused concern among parents and other critics who say the system's push for AP courses and test-taking has filled the classes with students who aren't prepared to do college-level work.

In the spring, top-ranked students at Severna Park High School said the pressure to take AP tests and courses even when they didn't feel ready contributed to a "culture of cheating" at the acclaimed school. The school was placed on probation this year after three students cheated on an AP U.S. history test May 11.

"If you're even slightly above average and motivated, you don't have any real option other than to go into an AP class, where you're shoved in with students who are not prepared, not capable of following through on the demands of an AP class," said Anne E. Levin Garrison, a South River High parent and a freelance writer and editor on education issues. "It completely defuses the intent, changes the meaning of quote-unquote 'advanced placement' when every type of student is allowed in that class."

Garrison has two daughters, one who graduated from South River in May and another who is a junior at the school. Her elder daughter had a senior year packed with AP courses and high marks on AP tests that would have allowed her to opt out of her freshman year in college, Garrison said.

"But to her credit, she's taking those courses again because she just doesn't feel like she got the foundation she needed, the depth that college-level courses offer," Garrison said.


Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun

December 21, 2006

THIS is interesting....

The leadership at NEA takes a stand AGAINST freedom of speech...

REG WEAVER, leader of the NEA, is sounding a lot like the oppressive and controling voice that teachers are coming together to resist.

Read more from the comments on the petition. Teachers are just plain sick of the inferior quality of a standardized plan. Our teachers want to teach. And our students want to learn.

Parents are beginning to see the reality behind the labels and rhetoric of NCLB.

What Reg doesn't seem to get is that you can't "teach" with your hands shackled and your mouth taped closed.

What on earth is he thinking?

If the leadership at the NEA had any intention of representing the teachers, they would solicit, NOT CENSOR, their voices.

Reg Weaver should go back to school.

Reg Weaver’s Memo and Educator Roundtable’s Response

The Memo

From: Anderson, Melinda [NEA] [mailto:MAnderson@nea.org]
Sent: Wed 12/13/2006 12:37 PM
To: State-Presidents [AFF]; State-Executive-Directors [AFF]
Cc: State-GR-Directors [AFF]; State_Affiliate_Comm_Liaison; VanRoekel, Dennis [NEA]; Eskelsen, Lily [NEA]; NCUEA President [NEA]; NCHE President [NEA]; NCESP President [NEA]; Daniels, Anthony [NEA]; NEAR President [NEA]; Executive Staff [NEA]; FieldOps [NEA]; GR.Allstaff [NEA]; PR.AllStaff; Billirakis, Mike [NEA]; Cebulski, Mark [NEA]; Crowder, Carolyn [NEA]; Marks, Michael [NEA]; Pringle, Becky [NEA]; Smith, Marsha [NEA]

Subject: Message from Reg Weaver & John Wilson: NEA *Does Not* Endorse NCLB Petition


State Affiliate Presidents
State Affiliate Executive Directors

Reg Weaver
John Wilson

Beware: NEA Does Not Endorse Online NCLB Petition

We have important information to share about a group of education advocates/activists calling themselves the "Educator Roundtable." (www.educatorroundtable.org ) This new organization has posted online a new anti-NCLB petition -- A Petition Calling for the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act. The group has just issued a press release (see text below) to officially launch its effort to obtain signatures for the petition.

Information about the petition and calls for signing it have been circulating on many email lists. Affiliates, NEA staff, and others are asking questions about the petition and whether or not NEA endorses it.

The short answer? Absolutely not.

While the initiators of the petition are well-meaning and share many of the same concerns we have with NCLB, the petition does not represent our views. It calls for the dismantling of NCLB and does not propose any positive changes or alternatives.

Please get the word out in your state that:

• Some of the petition's initiators have been critical of NEA and our efforts around NCLB.

• The petition is not consistent with NEA's Positive Agenda for ESEA or our messaging (see www.nea.org/esea for details).

• We would not want NEA affiliates to sign the petition or promote it. Instead direct our members and local affiliates to http://www.nea.org/lac/esea/index.html so they can email members of Congress about our Positive Agenda.

Have questions or need more information? Contact Joel Packer, Director, Education Policy and Practice Department, (202) 822-7329.

Thanks for all you continue to do to ensure great public schools for every child!

cc: State Affiliate Government Relations Directors
State Affiliate Public Relations Directors

Dennis Van Roekel
Lily Eskelsen
NEA Executive Committee
NEA Board of Directors

NCUEA President

NCHE President

NCESP President
Chair, NEA Student Program
NEA-R President

NEA Executive Staff
State ESEA Contacts

NEA Field Operations
NEA-GR Staff
NEA-PR Staff

The Response:

An Open Letter to the Rank and File Members of the National Education Association

Dear Fellow Educators,

On November 21, 2006 the Educator Roundtable launched an online petition drive to repeal the 2002 reauthorization of ESEA, the so called No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The response to the petition has been exceptional; in less than 30 days more than 20,000 signatures have been collected, all via the Internet without media support.

Unfortunately, the national leadership of the NEA has come out against our efforts to repeal this disastrous legislation, legislation that diminishes the professionalism of teachers, cedes local control of classrooms to federal and corporate manipulation, and, most distressingly, subjects our children to an endless regimen of high-stakes tests that provide little, if any, benefit to their lives.

Aside from being an ineffective way to educate children, the new educational culture of NCLB is patently destructive. Our children, in lieu of being prepared for contributive citizenship in our democracy, or even being prepared for the world of work, are being reduced to nothing more than passers of minimum competency tests. Your teaching is being judged only on whether you can bring your lowest performing students to meet the lowest of expectations on simplistic reading and mathematics tests, at the expense of all else -- including your best and brightest. For what purpose then does public schooling exist? Do we school to help all children develop into critical, reflective, engaged participants of their communities, or do we school to try to meet the expectations of ill-informed legislators and lobbyists who clearly have no interest in your children?

Considering the dire consequences unfolding for public educators, students, their families, and the communities housing them, one would think that the NEA would be the foremost voice of opposition to NCLB. Instead of demanding that America's classrooms be free from corporate intrusion, the NEA's leadership offers a watered-down approach seeking only to mitigate a few of the law's more egregious effects.

For the past four years the NEA leadership has failed to see the proverbial forest for the trees and, in so doing, has failed the very teachers it purports to represent. Now, when concerned educators and their supporters organize themselves to oppose reauthorization of the law, we are denied out of hand by the leaders of an organization that should be our greatest ally. Sadly, we have arrived at a time when the leadership that once protected our interests is willing to dismiss them in order to protect its own.

In contrast to their policy, the members and supporters of the Educator Roundtable, now 20,000 strong, are acting in the original spirit of unionism, organizing many small voices into a meaningful wave of self-advocacy. The Educator Roundtable asks teachers and their supporters to speak openly about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act. We encourage everyone with a stake in public education—and that is everyone—to begin “a ferocious national debate that doesn’t quit” about what we want for public education and what we want for our children and our future.

In order to allow this broad debate to carry forward towards real education reform, we seek to end the current format of ESEA. We do not want to simply and stubbornly oppose the law without proposing “any positive changes or alternatives,” as the NEA leadership accuses us, but we must establish an environment where open debate is possible—an environment free of NCLB—to move beyond the original ESEA to the betterment of our children rather than the destruction of public education. The key to this effort is, of course, openness, amongst ourselves, with the public, and with the millions of disenfranchised educators both within and without the NEA.

While it appears that openness is not the policy of the NEA leadership at present, we hold faith that the rank and file members of the NEA are able to think for themselves, and we encourage them to read our public statements and to sign our petition. It might comfort them to know that many union members are sitting at our roundtable; several have been paying dues since the late 1960s. We hope you recognize that when leaders make mistakes, their supporters must make tough decisions, holding leadership accountable for the paths they choose.

It would be a different country if more Americans learned to do so.

The NEA has chosen to initiate a national campaign to discredit our organization, urging their members not to sign the petition. We believe that teachers, union members or not, are tired of being told what to do, when to do it, and how it is best done. If you share our belief, we urge you to join us by signing the petition calling for and end to NCLB.

The Educator Roundtable is an organization made up of teachers, parents, students, and educators with a shared vision for our public schools that preserves the ideals of vibrant and meaningful teaching and learning. We join the thousands of teachers who find it impossible to stay silent in the face of the destructive path of NCLB, and we will not be deterred by the leadership of an organization that ignores the voices of its own members.

Please direct all inquiries to Dr. Philip Kovacs, Director of the Educator Roundtable, at www.educatorroundtable.org.

November 28, 2006

A Petition Calling For the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act

Here it is...it is our time to speak.


To: U.S. Congress

We, the educators, parents, and concerned citizens whose names appear below, reject the misnamed No Child Left Behind Act and call for legislators to vote against its reauthorization. We do so not because we resist accountability, but because the law's simplistic approach to education reform wastes student potential, undermines public education, and threatens the future of our democracy.

Below, briefly stated, are some of the reasons we consider the law too destructive to salvage. In its place we call for formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tank" members, or leaders of business and industry who have little or no direct experience in the field of education.


1. Misdiagnoses the causes of poor educational development, blaming teachers and students for problems over which they have no control.

2. Assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure all educational ills.

3. Mandates data driven instruction based on gamesmanship to undermine public confidence in our schools.

4. Uses pseudo science and media manipulation to justify pro-corporate policies and programs, including diverting taxes away from communities and into corporate coffers.

5. Ignores the proven inadequacies, inefficiencies, and problems associated with centralized, "top-down" control.

6. Places control of what is taught in corporate hands many times removed from students, teachers, parents, local school boards, and communities.

7. Requires the use of materials and procedures more likely to produce a passive, compliant workforce than creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.

8. Reflects and perpetuates massive distrust of the skill and professionalism of educators.

9. Allows life-changing, institution-shaping decisions to hinge on single measures of performance.

10. Emphasizes minimum content standards rather than maximum development of human potential.

11. Neglects the teaching of higher order thinking skills which cannot be evaluated by machines.

12. Applies standards to discrete subjects rather than to larger goals such as insightful children, vibrant communities, and a healthy democracy.

13. Forces schools to adhere to a testing regime, with no provision for innovating, adapting to social change, encouraging creativity, or respecting student and community individuality, nuance, and difference.

14. Drives art, music, foreign language, career and technical education, physical education, geography, history, civics and other non-tested subjects out of the curriculum, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

15. Produces multiple, unintended consequences for students, teachers, and communities, including undermining neighborhood schools and blurring the line between church and state.

16. Rates and ranks public schools using procedures that will gradually label them all "failures," so when they fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress, as all schools eventually will, they can be “saved” by vouchers, charters, or privatization.

While any one of these issues is serious enough to warrant discarding No Child Left Behind, the law suffers from all of them. The number of signatures on this petition should be a clear indicator to state and national policy makers that it is time to move beyond this harmful, highly restrictive law.


The Undersigned

October 20, 2006

more thoughts on testing...

Here is an excellent essay and reference on testing issues, also posted on Susan Ohanian's wonderful website at: www.susanohanian.org

Ohanian Comment: I've sat in on classes at Dan Drmacich's school, and I've talked to parents and students. It's a school that nurture's students and teaches them well.

Comments from Annie:

This thoughtful review of the NY Regents test and supporting education process pertains to every state in compliance with NCLB policy.

Simply substitute your state’s name for “Regent” and the following list (excerpts from the essay by Dan Drmacich, principal, School Without Walls in the Rochester School; Standardized tests can send students who fail into tailspin) provides a perfect data sheet for advocacy against NCLB reauthorization.

From the essay:

The purpose of testing should be to help students grow academically, not to coerce higher test performances through public scrutiny and humiliation.

Volumes of research prove that subjective teacher assessment is a much more accurate predictor of student success than any single standardized test score.

The goal of having all students score above average on any standardized test is impossible.

Ironically, the very tests used by our state to measure student results prevent equality of performance.

Standardized test scores do not give the public an accurate picture of how well schools are preparing students as citizens and leaders.

The emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing is creating a culture of failure among many students, especially in urban areas.

Students who are poor, who are from English-as-a-second-language families, who have special education needs, who desire to have a vocational education or who have unique interests or learning styles, have suffered under the one-size-fits-all Regents education process. Even those students who do well on Regents tests suffer because they are often denied the opportunities to focus their studies on areas of personal interest, citizenship and other lifelong-learning skills.

Standardized tests can send students who fail into tailspin

by Dan Drmacich

The drumbeat of our state Regents testing policy and our federal No Child Left Behind Act echoed loud and clear in the Democrat and Chronicle's Sept. 22 and Oct. 12 stories on test results. Reading between the lines of the scoring data and accompanying stories of how schools are focusing their curricula to help students pass Regents tests leads me to several critical conclusions:

Students in families with higher family incomes generally have higher test scores than those from poorer families. One of the many critical reports substantiating this conclusion is the 2003 Metropolitan Life Teacher Assessment that low-income children have at least 16 critical variables to deal with that negatively impact test scores. These include family dysfunction and children entering kindergarten with low vocabulary levels.

Instead of requiring the same levels of testing performance from all students and publicly ranking schools that have minimal control over testing outcomes, wouldn't it make more sense for the state and federal governments to promote individual student growth and development? This change could be partially accomplished by never making test results public. The purpose of testing should be to help students grow academically, not to coerce higher test performances through public scrutiny and humiliation.

State and federal education departments also need to rely on more authentic, valid assessments, such as the number of books students comprehend, oral presentation results and portfolio demonstrations. Volumes of research prove that subjective teacher assessment is a much more accurate predictor of student success than any single standardized test score.

The goal of having all students score above average on any standardized test is impossible. Few educators, politicians and even Board of Regents members understand that test writers construct standardized tests for the purpose of creating a wide range of scores, with roughly half the test takers scoring above average and the other half below. One might conclude that the public has been snookered into believing that education reform through testing will lead to more students scoring above average on state tests. Ironically, the very tests used by our state to measure student results prevent equality of performance.

Standardized test scores do not give the public an accurate picture of how well schools are preparing students as citizens and leaders. Many New York state citizens who were poor test-takers have had successful college careers and hold prominent professional positions. Others have gone on to successful vocational careers and demonstrated success as leaders, parents and neighbors. Research has shown that success is not so dependent on IQ as it is upon an individual's EQ (emotional quotient). Characteristics, impossible to measure on standardized tests, such as leadership, perseverance, listening skills and compassion, are far more accurate predictors of success. More than 700 colleges have recognized this research, and consequently made the Scholastic Aptitude Tests optional for student admission.

The emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing is creating a culture of failure among many students, especially in urban areas. Imagine for a moment how a student might feel with a curriculum dominated by test preparation, a routine many students find not very interesting. Also, consider how some students might feel after their low test scores are shared and compared publicly to those of higher-scoring students. Some students may be learning to feel hopeless.

Students who are poor, who are from English-as-a-second-language families, who have special education needs, who desire to have a vocational education or who have unique interests or learning styles, have suffered under the one-size-fits-all Regents education process. Even those students who do well on Regents tests suffer because they are often denied the opportunities to focus their studies on areas of personal interest, citizenship and other lifelong-learning skills.

Each person who agrees should voice his or her concerns to school district officials, state and federal representatives. Only through active citizenship can we create an education system that truly meets the needs of our students and our society.

Drmacich is principal, School Without Walls in the Rochester School District.E-mail him at Daniel.Drmacich@RCSDK12.org.

— Dan Drmacich
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

September 16, 2006

it's back to school night...already?

As usual, nothing has changed and everything has changed....

Walking into my daughter's new principal's opening speech, the one that sets the tone for the year to come was a little bit creepy...He was at that moment telling the audience how by putting their children into AP classes, they are cashing in on a SIXTY THOUSAND DOLLAR savings in their future college costs.

I considered going directly to him and asking for a check since nothing of the kind is true in reality for my daughter or her friends, all new freshman students this year. As a matter of fact, and with a great deal of good sense, my daughter is enrolled in several classes she could have "skipped over" but it is not like her to want to lose out on the opportunity to study subjects she feels are important in a manner that offers depth, and with a knowledgable, prepared, and enthusiastic teacher...

The teachers have changed...There is a huge influx of shiny new faces. They are bright, enthusiastic, new, young teachers. My daughter loves them. And I can see why. For that, I am grateful...but I can't help but worry how they will fare. I am selfish enough at this point to hope they at least fare the year.

My soul still aches for the teachers who surrendered; the veterans. I never seem to shake off the memory of a teacher going to a Board of Education meeting here several years ago, holding up a white flag, and quitting on the spot...it still bothers me. I miss seeing the carriers of light--the kind of teacher who boldly speaks up, even if it is provocative or controversial; they are gone now, fired.

The teachers who stick around look sort of wounded, really. It saddens me to know how reluctantly they keep their jobs to survive mortgages and raising families, keeping retirement plans intact, but how much they have given up and given over... The changes robbed them of their joy....

A few veteran teachers seem okay; they have obviously convinced themselves that working within the present oppression is yet another educational trend. They might have convinced themselves that they can work around the policies, or that it is okay to work within them. I dunno, I know my child's perception is that "adequate" is not enough. And I agree, naturally.

Our new superintendent is busy "visiting every school in the district." He already seems to have engaged his team of people who never seem to have any of the complaints crucial to me or the other parents or kids or teachers I know. He is already armed with his head-nodding, invisable to me, clan of such people in firm agreement with how great things are going and how much the policies of standardization and beefed up testing have proven "progress" in our schools.


I still mourn our loss of opportunity; we could have hired a superintendent who would refuse to engage in such a horrid, destructive policy. We could have done better. We were so close....

With one child out of this stressful experience and one child right in the middle of it, I search for positives. The high-schooler is remarkably insightful and hard-working. Her teachers really see and respond to her and her fine qualities. As usual, most of her time outside of school will be devoted to endless worksheets and test-prep. The little remaining time, I hope, will be spend with an eye on her sister and the wonderful experiences she is having after high school. There is still a lot to look forward to. And we will steal her away from her burden with distraction and opportunities to learn with joy and purpose...and help her to choose sleep when enough is enough late at night...

So soon it will be autumn. Time to mark the phases of our lives with the sights and sounds and smells of another season...

I stare at the pictures of them when they were little...the girls have grown from beautiful babies, into amazing children, into wonderful teens, so quickly, it now seems...and so much has changed...and so much has not.

June 26, 2006

The Not Welcome Mat On Our School Doorstep

In the few days since I wrote this essay, another school board member has announced his intentions to run for a political office. I expect that in the future, other board members intend to cash in on their experience and resulting name recognition and, perhaps, favors owed, and also enter the political arena.

None of this is surprising, but all of this is disheartening. There is a certain flair and stained dimension to the decisions made by a public representative when they are tied to a political goal.

In our case, the decisions to move ahead toward expansion of IB and AP programs, supported by elite parents who believe the programs are the key to a better experience for their public school children, is an example of this. This decision is not informed. It lacks the perspective of research that questions the academic value of these programs.

In a frantic quest to seek out popularity, and possible future votes, our school board ignores the less vocal, less prominent citizen and their input. Perhaps a less powerful potential lobby would rather see these portions of our budget go toward improvement of our school infrastructure. Perhaps we would like to see money directed toward teachers, toward smaller classrooms, toward lessening the financial burden of parents to fund supplies and books and fieldtrips. Maybe we want the funds directed toward the development of quality learning choices that are not owned and monopolized by the College Board or McGraw Hill or Houghton Mifflin.

Something to ponder, if you are at all inclined, is this--no matter who you are--we are all being hurt by this merger of politics, business, and education, and so are the children, their teachers, our schools. And it will be a much easier trip back up the mountain now than if we allow them to take us all the way down....

Let's say "no" together. Think about it....

The Not Welcome Mat On Our School Doorstep

I have to step outside of my usual line of comments occasionally and write from the mind of my very own spirit. I am but one little voice in a small community on the eastern seaboard. This is my heritage, this is my soul; this is my place on this earth. I will tell you why I preface this essay this way. It is because I do not want you to think that I speak from any where else but my heart, which is composed, primarily, of the salt and sand and marsh and lush green farms and heron and crustaceans which decorate my life of rich color and beautiful earth banking up against the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Although our immediate community is small and surrounded by a mostly rural but also growing suburban sprawl, our towns are small, including our downtown, which happens to be the capital of the state. Our county is large and it is as diverse as the land that it covers. We have a population that grew out of the city shipyards just outside of Baltimore city and we spread all the way toward the influence of Washington, DC, our county line drawn maybe 20 miles at most from its heartbeat. And in between, and to the east, our little communities and towns curl all through the coastal regions of the bay and our rivers. In the southern part, which is where I live, the towns grew up around the waterways and bay, lots of farming, lots of boatyards, lots of water-based industry. And by industry, I mean salty fishermen and crabbers and oystermen, who spend their lives out on the water, season after season, providing us with the food that the ever abundant bay has delivered to our tables for generations.

The humorous description of our little downtown is this: Annapolis is a drinking town with a sailing problem. The handmade sign at the foot of the bridge over our very own South River in my little town says: “A Riva Derci.” That’s because we live in a place called Riva.

I had to bring you here to tell you my thoughts.

Our little appointed school board is remarkably representative of the variety of citizens who have found their homes here in this region. We have the representative from the very urban feel of the part of our county closest to Baltimore and the representative from the very rural feeling, southern parts of our county. And we have representatives from the many flavors of our regions in between them.

I have not found a “friend” in my community representatives on our school board. Why is that? I don’t know if I can explain why that is, and this is why, perhaps, I am moved to write about it. I think that there is a divide that is created, for one thing, by the process of their appointment by the governor. There is a process of community input and candidate selection but honestly, it seems to me to mimic an election. With this process, many voices are left out, candidates too. Because, here, it is likely that although you might be part of a community association, or civic group, or church, you may, like me, not feel exactly welcomed by the type of member the group attracts. Does that make sense to you?

I guess what I am saying is that it feels, from the start of this process, that the average Joe or Annie is excluded.

The political atmosphere of the board members selection goes through a nominating convention and then finalists are presented for appointment. In our local paper, the coverage makes it clear who the candidates are by identifying their political affiliation; no, not directly, but it is clear. Although the governor is not tied to these candidates in his appointments, it is often quite clear, by popular reputation and by local information, who, based upon the political party affiliation of the current governor, he will choose.

Is this so different from your town?

And so, from the beginning, the citizen, who will help color the choices and doctrine and policies in our schools is usually not my gal or guy; they are not my representative. These are the people who will in time select our school superintendent. And I can bank, likewise, on the choice they make not feeling like my choice. So, when I visit my child’s school, or have an area of interest for discussion or debate over the policies of our community schools, I deal with an administrative staff that is governed and controlled by the leadership not of my choice or selection.

This is part, I think, of a growing apathy for the directions of our community schools. The schools do not feel like they belong to us. And the greater the involvement of the higher, more remote government and politicians, the greater the gap becomes; our schools no longer represent our ideals, our perspective, our choice or our satisfaction. We are no longer a part of the decision-making process.

Now, I read in my local paper that our school board president has decided to enter the race to become our district delegate. This, of course, is no surprise. The school board, as an entity that has evolved in the political arena as a stepping stone into local politics, is not a new occurrence. What is new to me, though, is the announcement that he is running on the Democratic ticket. Why I should be surprised, is unsettling to me. There are several reasons. He was appointed several years ago by our Republican governor, he is recognizably influenced, heavily, by our business community, and he has followed through with unquestioning devotion to the policies of NCLB.

Traditionally, in our region, there has long been a Democratic stronghold. That, of course has changed as we now have a Republican governor. But, I have to tell you that all the boundaries that I thought I knew have blurred in perhaps a transition of culture and folk life that once defined not just our little place but lots of other regions and locales across our nation. Now, I can’t recognize the politicians through the forest of the politics. And now, I can’t tell who is competent to make decisions in our schools or who is there to campaign for a future career in politics. And now, I can’t feel comfortable that anything that happens in our schools is not in part being driven by a political campaign or goal or power.

So, that is how it feels in little Riva these days. My children go to schools that are stages on which political theater is showcased. Our meetings are political soap boxes. Our policies are political doctrine. Our children are only commodities, and their performance is simply another political chip to bargain with.

This is not Lake Woebegone, not at all. This is small-town America high-jacked by a powerful political agenda. And, even if you pay attention, and I promise you that I do, whatever you thought you knew may very much turn inside out before you realize it. It happened here. It will happen there too.

I will not say that I have lost the will or the spirit or the intention to fight this destructive force on our schools and on our sacred, special place on this earth where life should be brimming in opportunity, steeped in history and open to the future; I have not yet lost hope. But I do know, that without the voices of my neighbors, without the voices of our teachers, without the courage and drive to recapture a place where we all should feel comfortable and included, in our schools, we will not , perhaps, have this chance for long.