Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mr. Nutter is NOT the education Mayor

Philadelphia mayor, Mr. Nutter, has the audacity to say that the union is too focused on the contract, or lack of. So many issues with this comment!

1. The TEACHERS are the ones currently keeping the school district together. They are providing the glue, duct tape, staples, and paper clips needed to somehow teach without books, supplies, prep times, oversize classes, etc. If it weren't for the sacrifices of time, energy and financial resources of its teachers, the school district would NOT function.

2. The teachers call on the union to protect their rights as union members and make sure our working conditions are conducive to learning. Right now they are NOT.

  • Oversized classes, some over 50 kids in a class were more prevalent this year than anytime I can recall. We level classes in October, and this year it was way too long to wait, as teachers didn’t have enough chairs or even ANY books to distribute.  Those who photocopied texts for their extra students found they had to provide their own toner, paper and sometimes go to STAPLES to do their own copying. No books, no chairs, no supplies, but they want to evaluate teachers on how well their students do on a test?   Through contract language, the Union makes sure class sizes and  rules governing them are reasonable.
  • As noted above, there are literally NO books for some areas and teachers are encouraged to get what they can off the internet. But unless every kid has a working computer, it’s not possible. There are no supplies for science labs or other subjects that require equipment. The union contract has language that specifies the need for books and supplies.
  • Some schools have no Biology teachers or Algebra teachers even though the state currently requires they pass Biology and Algebra to graduate. The union contract specifies the need for the proper certification for teachers and filling spaces ASAP with qualified teachers. Many of the vacancies now unfilled were known about in June but the School district did not try to fill them over the summer. Instead they hired a “Talent” recruiter who makes a tidy sum but can’t find any talent apparently.
  • Cutting the custodial staff has resulted in dirty schools, and some unhealthy schools don’t have needed repairs made to be healthy. Mold and mildew collect on walls that need pointing or are wet because the roof leaks. My old school had only ONE working water fountain for 500 kids, and it wasn’t air-conditioned. Our union contract stipulates at LEAST one working water fountain and working toilets, room temperatures conducive to learning and requirements to move the class if the temps get above or below those levels. Why such specificity? Because in the 70s and 80s those things were not guaranteed.
  •  Our union contract calls for a desk and chair for every teacher, a locked closet for personal belongings, a private space for both the nurse and counselor. Why? Because it wasn’t the case at some point in time.
3. Our union contract says that people should be rehired according to seniority after they’ve been laid off. The recent mass lay-offs of nurses, counselors, and secretaries went horribly because seniority rules were not followed. Nurses and counselors who were committed to the school district and were cognizant of the problems of the children in their schools, found themselves somewhere else, or not being called back at all. Now, new hires have quit and they are having a problem filling the positions. Gee, who would want to come back and be abused once more after being told their job was superfluous?
4. Same goes for teachers. There’s no wonder that there is a teacher shortage. Teachers with seniority are not consulted, honored, or listened to regarding what works for the students in their care. The new teachers don’t have enough experience to know how to deal with the more challenging behaviors they encounter and most quit before they have become good at their craft. The older teachers are expected to disregard what they know about child development and adopted the unproven methods of reformers. Even when they can prove the methods don’t work, they are ignored and harassed. No wonder no one wants to teach in Philly. Our union wrote hiring, layoff, and rehiring language into the contract because it was needed.
5. The School Reform Commission (SRC) cancelled our contract in 2012 and refused to honor step increases or increases in salary for those who attained Masters or Doctoral degrees. The school District claims they want highly qualified teachers and then turns their back when it comes time for recognizing the qualifications. Teachers here do not get reimbursed for tuition in obtaining degrees or certification. We are fighting the cancellation of our contract in the courts and hope it will be reinstated in our favor.
So, Mr. Nutter, why is our union so concentrated on negotiating a contract? Because our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. Right now, the city and state are continuing to demonstrate that they have no regard for either children or adults in the Philadelphia School District. Our district has no power to raise money and we rely on the city and state to fund our schools. With no elected school board and no politician committed to our plight, it’s up to the union to get the support needed for its members.
Remember, the union IS the body of teachers working to hold things together in the schools as the city, state, and federal governments, and the corporate reformers just keep putting more obstacles in our way.

Still learning!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Opting Out Has Never Looked Like a Better Idea

I recently wrote about standardized tests and the need to get rid of the High stakes attached to them. Several news articles came out this week that need a follow-up blog on standardized tests. There's good news and bad news.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first.
Some of the results from the PSSA were released this week that show declines in almost every area of every grade. Why? Two reasons -
1. They aligned the tests to follow the Common Core (PA calls it the PA Core, but it's practically the same) so they are more rigorous (I hate that word) and
2. they set the test scores too high so many students will fail.

Even though the state readily admits that the tests can't even be compared to last year's tests, they are still insisting on judging schools and teachers on whether their students made certain gains. Ninety percent of a school's performance score is based on these PSSA scores.

Read about that here:

Alison McDowell, and opt out organizer in Philadelphia writes:

"The state knew at this time last year that significant numbers of students would "fail" the new PA Core-aligned PSSA tests. Yes, even before the students took the test. They are "failing" because the cut scores are set AFTER students take the tests. They can set the scores to "fail" a predetermined number of students.  This is exactly what happened in New York state in 2013.

"Chris Shaffer from the District told me they would have the PSSA scores in about a week. The drops described in the article are not happening just in Philadelphia. I heard from the West Chester, PA superintendent that the results are the same in his high-performing district. Mr. Shaffer said letters would go home to parents in September, but scores might be available online in late August via the parent portal.

"If you are thinking about opting out this year, you can send in your intent to opt out letter at the beginning of the school year. Sample letters are available here:

"Sending in letters early will put the state department of education on notice that we do not accept these tests that are designed for failure as a valid measure of assessment for our children.

"Note that many high schools use 7th grade PSSAs as part of their admissions process (but not all). Also starting with the class of 2017 (unless the 2 year moratorium passes and it hasn't yet), students must pass English, Algebra, and Biology Keystones. Those that opt out of the tests are compelled to take a semester-long online course or Project-Based Assessment, which I cannot recommend. If the moratorium does pass, rising juniors and sophomores would not have the Keystones as a graduation requirement and could opt out without consequence. We'll have to see how things progress with the Keystone exams."
The good news is that Temple University in Philadelphia has joined hundreds of other colleges and universities in getting rid of the SAT/ACT requirement. So the whole purpose of getting your kids used to standardized testing so they'll do well on the SAT is now moot. Cue applause all around. For decades, college admission officers have been saying that high school performance is a much better indicator of future college success than SAT/ACT scores. Nice to know they're putting their convictions into policies.

There are many groups that are offshoots from the United Opt Out group. Facebook has bother National and state groups for opt out. Don't delay, have your letter ready the first week of school.

Still learning!

Friday, July 10, 2015

No High Stakes Testing!

The scores for the PSSA (Pennsylvania’s state standardized test) just came out. Rumor has it they are not good, with 70% of the students scoring below basic in math. 70% failure rate??????? When I was in college learning how to be a teacher constructing a test was one thing we learned about. It should have a variety of opportunities for responses, should include multiple choice, fill in the blanks, essays, and true-false questions. We learned that if we gave a test based on what we taught that saw more than 50% failing, that there was probably something wrong with the test, that it didn’t measure what we actually taught, that we should find out what the problem with the test was, re-teach the material and retest. If 70% are failing the test, there is a disconnect between what is being taught and what is being tested. We already know there is a problem in the math curriculum, expecting students in Algebra 1 to master concepts from Algebra 2/Trigonometry. If they are testing these concepts on the test, then the failure rate is understandable. Teaching/testing concepts that require advanced math in a beginning level course is plain old stupid. Stuff like this is happening all over the United States, it’s no accident.

Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and continuing with Race to the Top (RttT), education has been assaulted by corporate reformers bent on privatizing public schools, union busting, and setting public schools up for failure and takeover. Education budgets have continuously been decreased as prices for books, supplies and heating oil rise. Teacher pensions have been continuously under attack and many states have not contributed to the pension funds for decades. Teacher tenure, which in reality is only due process in K-12 schools has been attacked to get rid of the most experienced teachers with advanced degrees who earn more money than new teachers, balancing the budget on the backs of the school employees.

Professor Jesse Turner, an educator from Connecticut, has been walking to Washington DC and meeting with education activists along the way to highlight the dangers of standardized tests and other education “reforms.” He met with a few dozen activists in Philadelphia the other day after they accompanied him across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Camden, NJ to Philadelphia. With Independence Hall as a backdrop, he addressed the need to stop the reforms that aren’t working and to get rid of high-stakes tests for students. He called for a moratorium on the Keystone tests and the PSSAs, and for a fair-funding formula for public schools. Teachers, parents and students shared their stories about the devastating effects of these tests on students and teachers. They admonished corporate-education-supporting politicians NO JUSTICE, NO VOTES.

Teachers assess students every day, several times a day, in various ways, only some of which require an actual test. Looking at writing samples, listening to a discussion, judging a poster for accuracy and creativity, Listening to a child explain a math problem to his peer, reading and answering questions in reading groups, noticing what kind of questions a child asks can also give some indication of whether they understand a concept. Watching a group of students put together a play about an historical figure, write a song about a science concept. There are many more ways to determine if a child is progressing. The idea that only a standardized test can tell if a child is succeeding is ludicrous.

A standardized test is a way, however, to gather information quickly and compare it nationwide. The NAEP tests, given every 2 years in specific grades, do just that. Even the NAEP's results do not come back in enough time to make a difference that year for the child that took them. When I went to elementary school, we took ONE standardized test in 4th grade to determine our IQs. The rest of the year, our teachers tested us weekly in spelling and math, monthly in history and geography and civics, (we didn't have science until 6th grade). We had January and June exams. These exams were usually locally made and cumulative but didn't count for the whole grade in the report card. I believe they counted for 25% of your grade. My second standardized test was the PSAT and then the SAT. And that was it until I took my National Teachers Exams my senior year of college.

We don't NEED standardized test to tell us which kids are having a problem. In fact, we can probably sit down with the child and ascertain what the problem is quicker than they can take a standardized test. Sometimes we can't figure out how to help the child and that's where the IEP process takes over. Speaking of IEPs, do you realize that kids can't be declared Special Ed unless they are performing two full years or more below their grade level? Special Ed kids have to take these grade level tests with no accounting for where they CAN perform. The only accommodations are the teacher reading the directions and a longer testing time and a small group atmosphere. As if taking 4 or 5 hours to complete a 1.5 hour test will make a big difference. Either you can or you can't do it, whether you can't do it in an hour or in 4 hours, it's still not going to make a difference.

To hold up graduation or promotion because a child cannot perform on a standardized test is a travesty. You are willing to bet that a test taken on one day can judge a child better than a year's performance in class? I don't think so. One day of testing negates 4 years of high school tests, projects and reports? No.

As a teacher, I can see a place for standardized tests, but not the high stakes these tests come with. My last year of teaching (I retired in 2012) brought me a class of 25 fifth graders. Two were homeless, one who had a mother who was an addict. One girl's mother had just died that summer, one boy's mother had a stroke and was bedridden at home, two kids received special ed services, one boy arrived in November having never attended a regular school. He had been in a 6-students class for emotionally disturbed kids for the previous 5 years. He required constant attention and a TSS worker who never materialized. Another young man was on his 5th school in the past 2 years because he had emotional problems at all the others and was seeing a shrink twice a week. Yet another young man had anger issues and was under a psychiatrist's care. Two kids arrived mid-year from a local charter school that counseled them out because they were failing (both kids were performing 2-3 years below level). Another girl had been shuttled back and forth from relative to relative because she was manipulative and mean. She needed psychiatric help but was not receiving any. That's almost HALF my class with issues that would prevent them from learning and doing well on tests.

The rest of the class? I saw 6 at or above grade level and 7 were one year below grade level. I taught my heart out that year. Brought 2 kids three levels forward in reading, stopped one of the kids from running out of the class when frustrated, found hidden talents in several kids that caused higher self-esteem and therefore higher school performance.

How did we do on the PSSA? The on-level kids did great! A couple of the one-year-below kids were able to make proficient on either math or reading. One of the special ed kids did well in writing. The emotionally disturbed kids bombed the tests because they refused to take it once they got frustrated. The standardized tests they took didn’t begin to scratch the surface of all the students learned  that year or any of the years before.

If you asked me whether that year was a success, I could give you at least one success for each child in that room. Indeed, some of the kids performed beyond my wildest dreams. I was told at some point that some kids were assigned to my room simply because I had infinite patience and was non-confrontational with the emotionally disturbed kids. Many years, I'd get the kids no one else wanted. If I were to be judged on their overall test performance, I'd be judged as an ineffective teacher. But I wasn't ineffective at all. My students left me in a much better place than they arrived, not because of any test, but because I tried to work with them in the ways they needed me to.

Truly, a standardized test cannot tell you whether a child has learned or not. It only tells you that the child is good at taking a standardized test. The writing test tells you that your child can follow a rigid template and use multi-syllable words. That template destroys any kind of creative response to a prompt and the essays all end up sounding the same. It’s disgusting what the writing test has done to creative writing.

Standardized test cut scores are set every year AFTER the test has been taken. Why? So the appropriate number of students will fail. What is that appropriate number? What ever will make a bell curve. There will always be low-scoring students because that’s the way the test is set up. If by some chance everyone who took the test did well and ranked in the proficient area, they’d take those cut scores and make it so only 25% of the kids scored proficient and 25% score below basic, even though their results would have earned everyone a proficient score the year before. They can set the cut scores anywhere they wish to make it look like kids are failing or kids are progressing well. The scores have nothing to do with what a child knows and has learned, the scores are manipulated each year.

What to do? Until the standardized tests become low-stakes tests and aren’t the determiner of promotion or graduation, the only choice is to Opt Out. Join the movement, it’s been growing exponentially for years. Older middle schoolers and high schoolers can simply refuse to take the test. Elementary schoolers can be opted out by their parents refusing the tests for their child in writing to the principal and superintendent after viewing it.

Still learning!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

NY's Governor Cuomo is So Wrong

Before I begin, I must thank my hubby for fixing my computer so I could continue to write.

The NY State budget passed with a few amendments that have nothing to do with the budgeting of money. Or maybe it does...

The other night, Gov. Cuomo signed a budget bill that contained the provision for changing teachers' evaluations for the worst. A foe of teachers all throughout the state, Cuomo has done everything he could to help his charter school buddies and thwart the teachers all over the state. He has slashed budgets, reduced pension plans, sneered at teachers in unions, funneled money to his favorite charters over the needs of the kids in the same neighborhoods. He has expressed disbelief that only 2% of the teacher have been found unsatisfactory, and has made changes to the evaluations so that only 2% will be found satisfactory this coming year.

Now, 20% of a teacher's evaluation depends on test scores of their students. The rest comes from principal observations, meeting professional development goals and other jump-through-hoops requirements. Next year, scores will count for 50% of a teacher's evaluation, and no matter how well they do on the other points, cannot be found satisfactory unless the students improve their scores by a certain percentage. Also, the person observing the teacher in class will be an outside administrator, probably not trained in the teacher's subject area. An additional requirement is that a teacher will be fired with two back-to-back years of bad test scores. In Florida, a teacher's attendance is taken into account so that if more than 10 days are used, the teacher must be found minimally effective. This goes for maternity leave, surgery, broken bones, cancer treatments, etc.

Do I have to state the obvious that basing a teacher's evaluation on those things will be a big problem?

Before I expound on what is wrong with his bill, I need to clear something up. There really aren't that many bad teachers out there. We only hear about the bad ones though in the media. My senator, Pat Toomey, introduced a bill to investigate every person in the school at their expense to find the sexual predators. Out of all the teachers in the US, less than 300 were found to be guilty of sexual predation. I figured out the percentage last year. I think it came out to be 0.06% of all the teachers. Really? So you punish the 99.94% of the teachers who are NOT sexual predators.

Most teachers I know do their job well, teaching with respect and caring and eager to learn new things about their field and about their students. Are there some mediocre teachers out there? Yup. Are there some bad ones? Yup. If they are in your child's school, talk to the principal about getting rid of them or making them learn better methods of teaching. It is the responsibility of the principal to document unsuitability and submit the needed paperwork in order to get help for a teacher or to get them fired. The principal has that responsibility. Unions don't want bad teachers, but they will make sure there is documentation and not arbitrary and capricious accusations against a perfectly good teacher who disagrees with the principal on certain things. There is not room for revenge where political, philosophical, or practical differences may arise between teacher an administrator.

1. Basing any part of a teacher's evaluation on a student's test scores is statistically invalid according to the American Statistical Association. They have stated numerous times that the use of test scores as well as the formula used to determine the VAM (Value Added Metric) is of no use in determining whether a teacher is effective or not. It is junk science. Look back in my blog entries to find the citations for this statement.

A student's score determines what that student knows about memorization of facts and test-taking strategies, not their future success in a "College and Career Ready" atmosphere. Many colleges these days don't even require a student to take the SAT or ACT, basing their admissions on portfolios and records of high school work. A student's high school records more accurately determine their success in college than the SAT or ACT.  So using this statistical interpretation to judge teacher effectiveness is wrong for 20% but more than doubly wrong for 50%.

Not only are teachers in poor districts going to have a problem with this, but teachers in rich districts and those who teach gifted kids will find themselves rated ineffective according to scores. For the kids who typically score in the 90th percentile and above, the advanced kids, it will be very difficult to get them to improve enough to satisfy the formula. A kid who scores 98% one year may score 97% the next and that will be counted as a teacher's negative influence, despite the fact that the kid is very gifted. Conversely, a teacher in a high poverty district will have most students scoring lower because of the effects poverty has on their brain development, not because the teacher hasn't taught them well.

2. Principals have typically observed teachers to determine who well they do their job. There are provisions for drop-in observations, longer informal observations and hour-long formal ones. In Philadelphia, the formals happen twice a year supposedly, and any day can find your principal poking their head in to see how things are going. A principal who knows the kids will be able to see how far Raj has come in his ability to finish an assignment. It might  not get finished, but 60% is way better than 10% or nothing. Someone who knows the child will be able to see that Rami is raising her hand sometimes and participating where she just sat disengaged last year when her mother died. A principal will recognize the trust that has developed among a teacher and their class so that students feel safe enough to ask questions and express disagreement without being ostracized. A principal will appreciate that jumpin' Jack Flash has stopped bolting out of the room when he got frustrated and is instead asking for help or signaling discomfort without disrupting the class. A good principal will notice how far Janine has come even though she is still at least a year behind in reading and math. (That won't show up on a test score.) A great principal will recognize that, no matter how many things are on the evaluation rubric, that many things that count can't be measured and that things that can be measured don't always count.

An outside admin has not seen a beginning teacher struggle and finally find her feet and begin to be effective with her students. They see an inexperienced educator who makes a lot of mistakes, even though she's really getting the class to work together. An outsider doesn't see the effort a teacher puts into getting her students to the point where they CAN pay attention and maybe learn. They don't see how this teacher tutors kids at lunch or outside of school time, how he buys clothes, shoes and supplies for kids in his room who don't have those things, how he has raised the self-confidence of the whole class from September to now, how the kids who were quick to curse him out in the beginning of the year now are respectful.  Some days just might be bad for either the teacher or the kids and the teacher should have the right not to be observed then. Outsiders are welcome to observe, but not to judge.

3. Counting pupil and teacher absences against them for evaluation is a slippery slope. I am not talking about teachers who milk the system and are a chronic problem. The teachers I do mean are the ones who are taking their 89 days childbirth leave, or those who have had tumors removed and need to be out 4-6 weeks to recuperate, the teachers who were in an accident and have broken bones or a concussion. Not all schools are handicapped accessible and can accommodate a person on crutches or a wheelchair. A teacher in Florida recently wrote to say that he had a lung tumor removed and was out 2 weeks. Those 2 weeks took him from being an highly effective teacher to a minimally effective teacher with all other scores being advanced. This teacher had students who were ALL proficient or advanced at their tests.

4. A teacher's class is not the same year after year. The amount of learning that goes on is not the same year after year. The standards for each grade are not the same year after year. Life events easily change the tenor of the class for students. Deaths, incarcerations, physical, mental or emotional abuse, neighborhood tensions, and the physical well-being of the child grossly affect how the student is able to concentrate on the tasks at hand and perform well in school and on a standardized test. Change one of those situations and it can send a student into a tailspin that might take them years to recover from. My class this year may have more smart kids than last year's class or vice versa. It may have more kids in need of emotional support than last year's class. Both of these will affect the outcome of the test scores with none of the above things taken into consideration. A troubled child can't concentrate and won't test well. A child who reads on a third grade level in fifth grade won't test well. A child who just arrived from Haiti last year won't test well on a grade level test. Who will want to teach the ELL kids, the Special Ed kids, the PSD kids? No one. They'll bring down your scores. The best teachers might be found in the rooms with these children, the ones who never give up on a kid, who find a way to motivate them each day. Are you going to waste the talented teachers' abilities by holding them to higher scores every year for kids they've never seen before? Every high poverty school will be decimated, every teacher of the gifted will be let go as well as the IEP teachers, ELL, and those who dedicate their careers to the kids who need an alternative education. Every school will have new teachers with no experience, no connection to the community, and no institutional memory to help foster a true community in the school.

What a terribly bad idea has been foisted on the residents of New York and its school children! What are we going to do about it? Please suggest some things below or at least spread the word and call your NY state legislators and complain or get them to introduce a bill to rescind.

Still learning!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Senator Toomey - Some thoughts on education

I receive email newsletters sent out by my state and national senators, congressmen and legislators. My dad had been a state legislator when I was growing up and I’ve always been involved in the political side of things. I’ve managed to vote in 100% of the elections since I was eligible. Letting my representatives know the issues that are near and dear to me is important if they are to represent me in lawmaking. While Senator Toomey and I rarely see eye to eye on issues, I was moved to write him when I read his recent newsletter.

Dear Senator Toomey,

In your most recent newsletter to constituents you stated:

On Tuesday, I met with representatives from the Pennsylvania American Legion. Our veterans should be first in line for the best quality medical care in the world. Last year, the American people learned about outrageous examples of mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs that included excessive wait times for needed care; substandard care; dishonest reporting on care; and cutting corners that

Our veterans deserve better. We discussed ways we can work together to improve care for our heroes, and their input was valuable…

I certainly do not begrudge our veterans their just benefits and feel that they should be fully supported. These changes need to be made in order to make it right for our veterans, who are not being taken care of. But teachers have been under attack for so long and I’d like you to think about listening to us, too.

You need to meet with teachers from Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle and High School. Our schools should be the first in line for the best quality education in the world. For the last decade, Philadelphia, Allentown, Duquesne, York, and other distressed cities endured the Commonwealth’s mismanagement of their school districts. They saw layoffs, program cuts, school takeovers and closings, privatization of schools, mismanaged charter schools that remain unaccountable for their finances and curricula. In Philadelphia’s case, cutting counselors and nurses has led to violent incidences and death for two school children. Teachers in Philly have no books, paper, supplies or programs to prepare for the Keystones. Indeed, Overbrook High and a few others don’t even have a biology teacher to teach the kids the required information for the mandatory-for-graduation Biology Keystone test. Schools are so underfunded that it would be criminal to hold them accountable for any federal and state educational requirements.

Our schools deserve better. If you were to sit down and discuss with us ways we can work together to improve education for our students, you may find our input valuable. We’d tell you that high poverty areas make strange bedfellows with education. Students whose basic physical, emotional or medical needs are not being met find it impossible to focus on the everyday school lessons. They are worried about heat, water and electricity at home, whether their parent will be home to prepare dinner or will they have to, whether their parent will be drunk or high and incapable of taking care of the kids’ needs, whether someone in their family, street or neighborhood will be shot, beaten, raped or arrested. Yes, children who have been traumatized repeatedly by familial or neighborhood violence have changes in the structure of their brains that make it even more difficult to learn in school. If you haven’t read the report, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network presents a sobering picture of the effects of traumatic stress in childhood. Here is the link to their report.

We’d also show you that class size matters for kids who begin schools already behind. We’ll demonstrate that charter schools release their hard-to-educate students after the new year so they’ are not counted for their test results. We’ll prove that children re-entering our public schools after cyber school are typically 2 years behind. We’d also give you information about how high-stakes testing is ruining education as we know it, pinning graduation and promotion on a 4 day test while ignoring what the child does for the other 175 days of the year. Or in the case of high school graduation, how can three tests given on one day each going to negate four years of performance by the students. We could show you how charter schools skim the kids who have the best chance to succeed from the public schools and pawn off their behavior problems and special ed kids on the school district teachers.

We could prove that while we’ve been contributing to our pensions for the past umpteen years without fail, the Commonwealth has broken their agreement with us when they didn’t pay their share of the pension contributions but used that money to give tax breaks to corporations. This is not only happening here in Pennsylvania, but all over the nation.

We could show you that tenure in the K-12 system is only due process, giving teachers who have been accused of something the right to know what it was and the right to defend themselves. Teachers have been in the news quite recently being fired, let go, or harassed because they dared to speak out against the high-stakes testing or Common Core. Tenure allows them to defend themselves. Indeed, in Philadelphia the Feltonville 6 are the perfect example of what could have been disciplinary action resulted in information distributed throughout the city instead of firings.

We could prove, without a doubt, that the Common Core State Standards are not the correct standards for the schools. They are too hard in the lower grades and too easy in high school. In K-3, the standards are requiring that children perform tasks that are not developmentally appropriate. Kindergarteners need to PLAY and EXPLORE, not learn to read before first grade or have to write sentences before their fingers are able to even hold the pencils properly. Here is an example of what developmentally inappropriate standards translate down to in Kindergarten. For a real example see the link below:

We could also given you thousands of reason why actual teachers should have written the standards instead of the testing corporation writers that did. Diane Ravitch explains very well what is wrong with the Common Core State Standards here:

And we’d also like to give you some input on school funding. All across the nation, state legislatures are decreasing the amount of money needed for schools rather than raising taxes. They have caused thousands of layoffs, school closures, inadequate facilities and insufficient books and supplies for our students. Such tactics in poorer cities such as Philadelphia in your own state have caused already underfunded school districts plunge headlong into a funding abyss they just might not be capable of pulling themselves out of. I realize that the states bear the majority of the burden where school funding is concerned but the federal government might consider funding future mandates instead of making the states fund federal mandated programs and testing with shrinking funds.

I’d also like to address another part of his newsletter in my Dear Senator Toomey Part 2.
In the meantime, what else would you tell Mr. Toomey about what's needed in education? Please comment below.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The School Reform Commission Took the Low Road

Teacher George Bezanis in his impassioned speech to the SRC in Philadelphia after they approved 5 more charters we can’t pay for. We join him mid-speech. Bold letters are my edit.

…I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, a public school parent, and a locally elected Democratic committeeperson in the 63rd Ward. These many hats shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We all wear them…

Whether we have never spent a day as a public educator but, instead, run charities for millionaires in the Wyncote Foundation and are appointed by a Republican governor who never dared step foot in a Philadelphia school…SRC member Feather Houston

Whether we say we advocate for children, but in the meantime collect a paycheck from Comcast while yelling at students that they “Must attend failing schools…” SRC member Gloria Simms

Whether we claim to be an objective member of an unelected school board, but must recuse ourselves from every other vote because our husband’s law firm has ties to charter schools throughout the district… SRC member Farrah Jimenez

Whether we dream of being mayor like our father, and just see this as another political stepping stone… SRC Chairman Bill Green

Whether we’re the only person on this mockery of a democratic institution who has actually worked in a classroom and, as a result, voted NO on every charter authorization vote. Thank you, Marge… SRC member, former Philadelphia teacher and principal Marge Neff

And finally, whether you are yet another Eli Broad Academy superintendent seeking to “narrow the achievement gap” by shutting down schools. A superintendent who takes a 10% pay cut but then secretly reinstates it one year later… School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite


The idea that ANY vote regarding charter schools would be already biased toward the charters should now be foremost in your mind. Their agenda has been laid bare to the general public in this speech.


Philadelphia is caught between a rock and a hard place regarding school funding. Our school board (SRC) is appointed by the Governor (3 members) and Mayor (2 members) and historically has no authority to raise taxes to pay for their budget. The school district must rely on the charity of the Philadelphia City Council as well as the benevolence of the state legislature to raise money to educate the children in the poorest big city in America. 80% of the children that attend our schools come from families that are at or below the poverty level. Surely, the city cannot use real estate taxes to pay for the schools. The funds must be and have been raised in another manner.


Previously, the city enacted several taxes to support schools, such as the “sin tax” on drinks and gambling, and a levy on the Parking Authority funds it collects from hapless drivers. Any other kind of tax needs the approval of the State lawmakers. We did get approval for an extra percent on sales tax, but only in the city. In this way, the burden falls on the poor people who inhabit the city and are paying more sales tax. With the Republican-controlled state legislature and senate, the chances of a fair deal are slim to none for the Democratic stronghold in Pennsylvania.


The most recent deal with the State was hashed out last summer, a tax on cigarettes in the city. The state lawmakers however, led by Senator Mike Turzai, held the city hostage as the only way they could get the cigarette tax was to agree to rules about more charters, and that if they did not approve a charter, the charter could appeal to the state to override the SRC’s decision.


In reality, there’s no way the SRC could have voted that made ANYONE happy. In taking the low road, they approved 5 charters out of 39 applicants. These 5 charters will cost the school district $20 million they don’t have. There is already a projected deficit of $80 million for next September and little chance of raising that money in the current legislative atmosphere. The district and city are up to their ears in debt with nowhere to go but down. The school district has cut the number of nurses, counselors and librarians. They’ve eliminated pay for extra-curricular activities. Decimated school budgets to the point where a 2000-student high school had $168 total to buy books, supplies and materials for its pupils. They’ve cut and privatized the cleaning staffs, so that the only thing that can be done every day is emptying the trash. No time for actual cleaning. They’ve cancelled the contract of the teachers and sought to change benefits so the teachers will have to pay $8000 a year to keep their current level of coverage. They’ve eliminated raises based on Masters’ and Doctoral degrees, eliminated step increase for longevity, and sought to increase the school day and year and cut teachers’ salaries by 13%. These hard-working, beleaguered teachers currently make about 20% less than the teachers in the surrounding, wealthier counties, teaching students with many more needs.


We would have liked for the SRC to have taken the high road and not approved any charters. Senator Turzai and his Republican counterparts would have like nothing more than approving ALL the charters. If fact, the Philadephia School Partnership (read charter and parochial school advocates), offered the district a bribe of $35 million dollars toward approving the 39 charters. A generous gift, it doesn’t begin to cover the costs to the School District to educate those kids. While it costs the SDP about $7000 to educate a charter school, the grant (bribe) only covered $2000 of the costs, leaving the district to come up with $5000 more per child than PSP offered. The district can’t handle the students it has now, there’s no way they could take on that kind of debt. PSP was upset and walked out of the meeting when the SRC did not approve the majority of the charters. The Senator was upset when the SRC didn’t take PSP’s money, the teachers and parents were upset when the SRC approved ANY charters, much less 5 of them. It’s not as bad as it seems because the number of “seats” added is about equal to the number of “seats” lost when 2 charter schools closed under shady circumstances earlier this year. Still, rather than continue to have to shell out the $20 million those seats are worth, the SRC could have approved none and reduced their upcoming deficit by $20 million. That would have been the high road to take. But that was not to be.
Some would have taken the high road, the SRC took the low road.

Here is George's Blog entry about the experience.

Still learning!

Monday, February 9, 2015

What Do Teachers Do All Day?

I watched Taylor Mali's Rant the other day on and was reminded once again that the average person has no idea what teachers do all day.

My dad used to rag on his friend who taught high school history about not having to work for a living until Mr. D invited him to spend an entire day in the classroom with him. After spending the day watching Mr. D work, my dad never again said that teachers have it easy. He couldn't believe how much work Mr. D had to do teaching so many different classes and dealing with the kids with attitude without killing them. He finally understood what teachers do all day. And he only really knew about what went on at school. So much more happens to make those school day activities work. Someone has to research information, write lesson plans that demonstrate the standards, make sure the objectives are clearly understood, mark papers, make comments on writing, enter grades, make phone calls. That someone is the teacher. Every. Single. Day.

I've been retired for 2.5 years now and today's teachers have to keep track of many more assessments than I did and many more regulations. I don't envy them. Here's what a typical day was for me while I was a teacher in the city. Some days were much more packed, and rarely the days were less busy.

What do teachers do all day?

6:15 – Alarm goes off. Get ready for work

6:55 – Leave house for work, stopping to pick up a coffee and bagels

8:00 Arrive at school, sign in, field a phone call from a parent, run off annotated notes for Social Studies lesson. Make sure reading books can be picked up by students later, use the toilet.

8:30 Go out to the yard, say the Pledge of Allegiance and the school pledge with the entire school. Field questions from 2 parents, referee in disagreement between 2 students over something that happened yesterday after school.

8:40 Walk class into building send arguing students to counselor, collect homework, allow kids to sharpen pencils, get paper, etc.

8:45 Morning Meeting – learn about the Museum of Fine Arts that we will visit on a field trip the end of the week, introduce a new reading routine and practice it, call on 2 students to tell a joke or riddle. Return to seats for reading.

9:00 – Send one student to Special Ed teacher, review new routine again, write reading menu on the board, answer questions, Read the whole-group reading story, assign activities to be completed by the end of reading groups. Set the clock for 20 minutes and take first reading group. Work on word sorts and suffixes, read. Time is up. Repeat with three more reading groups (different activities and books) with reminders about changed routine. At some point, arguing students come back from counselor and need to be caught up on changes in between reading groups.

11:00 – Make sure 2 students go to Special Ed teacher for their reading instruction. Work on writing with mini-lesson on using strong verbs and synonyms. Demonstrate on board how many ways there are to say “said.” Conference with two students about their writing while the rest of the group is writing in their writer’s notebooks or working on a draft.

11:45 – Begin math lesson by introducing a game, play one round with class

12:00 – Grab coats and go to lunchroom. Wait for three students to get their school lunch, so they can come back to eat with me and practice guitar for our next show. Talk to counselor about what happened with formerly arguing students. Counselor gives me paperwork to fill out for one of the students. Use the bathroom, eat lunch, put out manipulatives and activities for math. Listen to kids play guitar.

12:45 – Pick class up from recess, send 2 kids to Special Ed teacher, go to class and continue math lesson with manipulatives, play math games again and break into small groups for instruction/enrichment. Work on long term project when finished assignments.

1:30 – Take class to computer lab for instruction. Go back to room and fill out paperwork for student, write homework on board, put manipulatives away, get out science materials

2:15 – Pick up kids from computer, give them 5 minutes to copy homework, intro science briefly and do as much of the experiment as we can. Rotate around room to make sure procedures are being followed. We will have to finish tomorrow.

2:55 – Bus kids are called down to the bus. The rest of the class gets coats and bookbags, pack up and tell one good thing that happened to them today. We sing “Ordinary Day” by Great Big Sea

3:10 – Dismissal – walk class down to the schoolyard and out to the street. Talk to 2 parents who are waiting in the yard. Help a teacher with a kid who is going nuts. Return to building.

3:30 - Erase today’s standards and objectives, write tomorrow’s standards and objectives. Grade papers handed in from reading and math, make phone calls for kids without homework or permission slips, and kids with problem behavior. Gather five sets of materials for Social studies which I will teach during reading tomorrow, as reading. Make a list of groups for Social Studies/Reading groups, making sure kids are with students they can work with. Troubleshoot what went wrong in the science experiment and plan for a redo. Call bus company to make sure we have a bus, Talk with colleague about a former student and ways to get him to work. Talk to Special Ed teacher about what activities I can do with the Special Ed students in reading and math when she is out.

5:30 – Gather up drafts of writing to mark at home.

6:30 – Make and eat dinner,

7:30 - Collect and answer email. Enter test results from yesterday’s math test into online grade book, Flag kids who don’t do well, change math groups according to the results. Go on internet to collect photos or Social Studies. Load Google Earth onto laptop to bring to school tomorrow for Social Studies/Reading. Read and give suggestions for the writing drafts. Read the first two chapters of the 5 different reading books.

10:30 – Put away anything not completed yet. Browse the web for fun

11:00 – Go to bed

6:15 – Wake up and start all over again

Still learning!

Still learning!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Where are the Pro-testers?

John Merrow published an article on the Opt-Out movement and standardized testing in general, called What a Difference a Dash Makes...Pro-Test or Protest? He asked for input and 138 comments later has not had even one person in favor of high-stakes testing. I wonder why?

As a retired teacher who spent 37 years in the Philadelphia School District, I can say all the high-stakes testing has done is make it harder for the kids to learn and the teachers to teach. I left right before the Common Core Standards went into effect. When I began teaching in 1975, or children took one standardized test that took up about four hours of my time to give.
When I left teaching, in fifth grade we were giving standardized benchmarks every 6 weeks to see if the kids were getting ready for the test. We spent one day of each week giving short multiple choice and open-ended tests in every subject. I calculated that we missed more than 20 instructional days of reading (a whole month of school) doing these extra tests and the real tests. That 11% of school time taking standardized tests. But there’s more – The kids that didn’t do well were expected to attend after-school reading and math sessions 4 days a week and not allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities on those days. Three times a year, they took a standardized test in the after-school program to see if they were ready for the big test. By the time they took the REAL test in March/April, they were tested out. In 2012, the kids were enduring 44 hours of testing, not counting the day-to-day tests given by the teacher. 4 hours in 1975 versus 11 times that in 2012. As someone above mentioned, testing kids more often does not make them test better, just like measuring a child daily doesn’t make them grow faster.
The tests are but one problem. Because they are so important to the school/district/state. we have had to change the way we teach. For instance, I discovered a great way to teach Social Studies and make it stick was to use historical fiction. We’d read and discuss and argue and get some understanding of how it was back in the day. The understood the reasons for the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, what it was like in the Great Depression, why child work laws were established, how hard women and people of color fought for the right to vote. No more novels. Now we must only read a chapter in the book and go on to the next standard no matter what. Teaching with novels allowed me to hit two subjects at once and not short shrift either one. Otherwise, there was no time for social studies.
These tests have only exacerbated the problems in the high poverty schools by not addressing the real problem – poverty. Our school had a 90% poverty rate. We needed help with social services, mental health and behavior, clothing and medical care. All that had to be taken care of before the kids could concentrate on the tasks at hand rather than worry about how cold the house was going to be, or if there’d be a hot meal at home or a warm place to sleep.
Tests can be useful, high-stakes tests are useful for nothing. Not for kids, not teachers, not parents, schools, or communities. they have only served to make children stressed and weary and make them hate school, kill any creative drive in the teacher, close schools that the community needs, and take funds away because charter schools supposedly do it better. (Not really!)

Here's Mr. Merrow's blog link. Read it and comment.

Still learning!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

We Didn't Start the Fire But We Will Fan the Flames

For at least a year, teachers around the nation have been talking about the travesty that is high-stakes testing. As required by the US Department of Education, all students from grades 3-11 must take annual tests that need to show constant improvement. Indeed, with NCLB, the idea is that ALL children will be able to pass these tests or else. “Or else” means sanctions, which can include extra professional development, additional personnel, smaller class sizes, constant documentation of progress, and possible “reconstitution,” that is, replacing the principal and at least 50% of the staff at the non-improving school. Transferring the school to a private for-profit charter organization is also a last-resort possibility along with closing the school and sending the students to neighboring schools or existing charter schools.

Having taught at a school that was identified as failing and received the extra professional development, personnel, and constant documentation, I feel qualified to have an opinion about what works. When we were tagged as a failing school, our scores hovered at the 20% to 40% range for proficient students. We knew our situation was not good but had begun to make changes to improve. Our teaching staff was heavily involved in writing curriculum for math, writing and social studies for the school district. We had changed our Math program to one of 5 that were identified as “reform programs.” We felt a need to do this, as our current math series did not help the students or teachers to “do” meaningful math. We spent two years training our teachers in the new methods of teaching math and had begun to see some success especially in the open-ended questions. We wanted to change reading series but it was an either-math-or-reading budget situation.

When the school district put us in the failing category, we were beneficiaries of tens of thousands of dollars worth of new books for every subject. Luckily, our math series was on the School District’s list of approved series. We received extra professional development in reading and math during the school day to tutor us in the new methods. Our school also got an assistant principal, a Parent Liaison, and an assigned substitute teacher to insure delivery of the curriculum. Class sizes in the lower grades were decreased to a 17:1 ratio.

That was all well and good but with the extra resources came a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth when the District evaluators did their Walk-Through each year. Eight to ten people would fan out across the school with their clipboards and pop in on classes throughout the school. They stayed for 30-45 minutes, observing, checking off items on the checklist and asking kids about what they were learning. Later in the day, teachers would meet with them and get feedback on what they saw. Not much of the feedback was useful but most of it was given in an “I gotcha!” manner of thought. One year they bemoaned the lack of words on the word wall, while the next year they told us word walls were obsolete. Much of the advice given to us was not useful for our students or their teachers. Each year the teachers and principal dreaded their visit.

After three years of walk-throughs and extra supplies, books and personnel our school finally showed the progress demanded by NCLB and we were removed from the restructured schools region of the district. Unfortunately, along with the removal of the label of failing school, came the removal of all of the supports we had been given, and within 8 years, we were back in the failing category.

Back to high-stakes testing, what had helped our teachers be able to improve the scores of the students? It was the extra professional development, the smaller class sizes, the assistant principal to handle discipline, the Parent Liaison who set up educational programs for parents, and the assigned substitute teacher who knew the kids and their potential. These were the things that helped us boost our scores. When they were removed, so was our progress. Why?

It was not because we had bad teachers, who became good then bad again. It was because children who live in high-poverty situations needed extra help to get them on a path to educational success. Children growing up in poor neighborhoods start school behind their middle class counterparts and then continue losing ground as school continues. Because of poor pre-natal care, healthcare availability, unstable families, trauma and violence, and insecure home and food situations, our students need safe schools that provide the care and support that they need in order to succeed. Testing them without providing the support is not going to give them what they need. Hanging promotion and graduation on these tests will not make the students perform better if they don’t have the extras.

Some students will still have trouble passing the tests even with the extra supplies and personnel because they are in Special Education classes or are English Language Learners. Children with certain disabilities need instruction and assessment that comes from their specific learning methods. Taking a bubble test in material that is two or more years above their instructional level will not lift them up to their grade level. It will only serve to frustrate them and decrease what self-esteem they have left. English Language Learners are required to take the tests after only one year of instruction in English. Imagine moving to a foreign country, being immersed in the new language and after only one year being required to read and write at the level of the rest of your grade-mates. They are doomed to fail the tests and so be denied promotion or refused a diploma. And their teachers will be evaluated on their scores.

Teacher evaluation is but one reason that high stakes tests are damaging. I have personally witnessed special ed kids and emotionally fragile students crumble under the standardized test format and lack of appropriate accommodations. Students who had come a long way during the year, from not completing any assignments to being able to do half of what the other students did on grade level, were completely frustrated during the test and ran out of the room, unable to take the rest of the test. These students were capable of doing grade level work without the great stress of the high-stakes tests, but unable to show progress having to take the tests without accommodations. How many children need just a pat on the back, frequent breaks, fewer questions, or a confident “You can do this!” to complete the tests, none of which we can offer because of test security. Yet, their school success is incumbent on their ability to do the tests. Limited-English students are forced to read passages that are far beyond their level of understanding and answer questions that are tricky and vocabulary specific. What chance do they have of succeeding in school if this is the only way they are assessed that matters?

Last year, tens of thousands of parents refused to allow their children to take the standardized tests. This year, the city of Chicago decided not to administer the PARCC test to its students this year for the above reasons. The movement has spread across the nation and finally has caught up to Philadelphia. Last year only 16 students opted-out of the testing, while this year100 parents from one school, Feltonville, have chosen to refuse the testing. Many of the students are ELL or special ed students who have little chance of passing and much chance at frustration. Six teachers at the school have taken it upon themselves to educate the parents to their rights to opt-out their children. Although the parents are sent reams of information about the tests, they are not told about their rights to opt-out. The teachers passed out flyers and held meetings off school property so as not to take school time.  

Why did they do this? Because their students are the most educationally vulnerable and they have no one else to stand up for them besides their parents and teachers. The School District has set up some disciplinary actions against the teachers to be announced at a future date. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Caucus of Working Educators, the Badass Teachers Association, and some members of Philadelphia City Council have expressed their appreciation and support of the efforts of the Feltonville 6.

The rest of the school faculties in the city schools need to fan the flames of the fire that the Feltonville 6 started. The fire needs to spread throughout the state of Pennsylvania and the rest of the nation to grab education back from the corporate education “reformers” and put it back into the hands of educators, who have the knowledge and the welfare of the students at heart.

Still learning!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Standards Don't Require Standardized Testing

While reading an article on LinkedIn the other day, I was taken aback by the author's acceptance that standardized tests follow naturally from standards, and that teachers should accept that reality and quit complaining.

The author stated,  "As teaching methods and content changed through the centuries, along with the number and type of students, so too the assessment methods have also had to change. From the informal testing of Socrates, to more formal testing such spelling and math tests as called for by Horace Mann, to the creation of what we know today as the College Board in 1900, the creation of more in-depth standardized testing seemed almost inevitable. " 

I take umbrage with that thought that standards can only be measured by standardized tests and are the great, modern way to assess learning, especially the annual high-stakes testing perpetrated by Bush's NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and Obama's RttT (Race to the Top).

National Standards have been in place long before 1994. I am very familiar with the Math Standards from the 1980s when I began 20 years of remedial math teaching. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)had wonderful standards way back then and offered alternate assessments and instruction for students who needed it. The most important difference between the NCTM standards and the Common Core (CCSS) standards is that TEACHERS wrote the NCTM standards, piloted them and revised them as needed. The Common Core standards were very short on input from teachers, relying mainly on non-educators to write them. In fact, not even ONE early childhood educator was involved in the K-3 standards as evidenced by the inappropriate developmental demands of the CCSS. In addition, the states can only revise 15% of the standards. And it's a laugh calling them the Common Core STATE Standards because the only thing the states did was rubber stamp them even before they were fully written.

With the emphasis on differentiation and the prominent place it occupies in the various teacher evaluation rubrics, it is curious how a standardized test can be the be-all and end-all of testing. Standardized tests cannot measure how persevering a child is when solving a problem, how creative they are in thinking of alternate solutions, how compassionate they are to fellow students, how joyful they are when reading a good book, how the finally got enough self-esteem to participate by raising their hand and giving their opinion, How well they are able to connect math and science, etc. They only measure one small aspect of what a child learns. Standardized tests are good only for that part of the population who are good at that form of testing. Differentiated learning requires differentiated assessment, like presentations, discussion, power points, writing a book, play, letter or newscast, explaining to a peer, drawing and art work, singing or acting out, building something, etc. The current tests do not cater to any of the strengths of children who may learn differently than just reading and writing, and today's teachers are required to use what is appropriate for the children in their class, using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic strategies like the above to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

 Another problem with the current trends, is that standardized tests results are currently being used to evaluate teachers, despite the American Statistical Association insisting that the test can only be used to measure information on students, not teachers. In addition, the Value Added Metric, which is used to make the standardized testing results “equitable” has been also debunked by the same statistical organization. It’s is junk science. Indeed, the Department of Education is even extending the test results to evaluate the teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities. If you can't statistically extend the results to teachers, then extending them even further would make the junk science junkier.

 But the fact that standardized testing follows along 'naturally' from the Common Core is really not far fetched at all considering the fact that David Coleman recruited standardized test makers. David Coleman is NOT an educator but a businessman, as are many of the standards writers for the CCSS. In fact, he is inextricably linked to the College Board as he is its president.  Coleman wrote the ELA standards and will profit from them, not only for K-12 but beyond. Even more curious, David Coleman is intimately connected to Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization, which promotes VAM, using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and privatizing public schools. He only has to profit from the Common Core Standards and the subsequent tests, which will be used to close public schools and fire good teachers.

 So no, standardized testing does not have to be accepted without protests by teachers, students and parents. Life-altering decisions should not be based on the results from a test given on 10 days out of 180. the 40 days of high school testing account for only 5% of the time the students are in school. How can you place so much emphasis and the treat of not graduating on 5% and ignore 95% of the work the student has done in school? One test should not be the only thing graduation requirements should look at, day-to-day performance and portfolio work will give a better indicator of high school learning. There is nothing good in using high-stakes standardized testing for schools, students, or teachers - only for the corporations who are profiting from them.

Still learning!

Friday, January 9, 2015

No Soldier Left Behind, budget woes

Normally, I write about education topics, but today is different. It did make me think about the educational act with the misnomer No Child Left Behind, though. Like NCLB, this situation with the military needs to change. Here are my thoughts.
While looking at a pie graph of spending categories on the US Budget, I couldn’t help but notice that the budget for the military eats up about 23% (if you count retirees & medical) of the total US monies available. ~20% of this is set aside for the various wars the nations is involved in. Education sits down there at 2.6% of the available funds. The war effort uses more than 8 times what is allotted for education. The total military budget is 240 times the education budget.

I realize that the Federal government doesn’t have much control over education, or didn’t until No Child Left Behind and its evil sister, Race to the Top. The Feds oversee certain aspects such as Special ED through the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The IDEA establishes procedures and timelines for teaching, testing and evaluating students with disabilities. But even the IDEA has recently been watered down to eliminate some of the responsibilities of the government, and ultimately the school, for those children. However, the US Department of Education (DOE) continues to mandate changes to curriculum, assessment, and teacher training and evaluation, that require additional funds without providing the states with sufficient money to implement those federal mandates.

Both the military and education budgets are part of the 39% total set aside for “discretionary” money that must be voted on each year by Congress. Many important things are in this discretionary portion – military expenses, federal and military retirees, veteran affairs, environment, justice, international affairs, for example. Except for the military slice, the money allotted to the rest of the categories ranges from 1% (Science) to 2.8% (Transportation).

During the high strung budget talks in Congress each year, there is always talk of decreasing funds for the military personnel, medical, education and retirees, even though these items only comprise about 4% of the total military money available. Indeed, the price of one specialized military plane will take care of all vets and their needs for decades at this point.  Why can’t we lessen the funds available for military hardware and contractors, and put it toward the veterans’ benefits and military pay? So many military families make so little they qualify for food stamps.

I think it’s time to rethink the allotments to current and former military personnel and reduce the rest of the military budget, redistributing that money to the discretionary items sitting at only 1% to 2.8% allotment. Just increasing each of those by 1% would enable them to do their jobs thoroughly and efficiently and perhaps even create jobs, especially in the needed transportation infrastructure.

Right now, all we have is a series of yearly cuts to the budgets of the departments that desperately need more funding. It’s as if we took education’s No Child Left Behind (which really resulted in Every Child Left Behind), and have instituted No Soldier Left Behind (NSLB). It seems it’s working just as well as NCLB.

Time for a change. No Soldier Left Behind has to go.
To see one of many critiques about No Child Left Behind, click below.

Still learning!