Category: No Child Left Behind

The end of the line

It is with both sadness and a sense of great relief that I tell you this will be the final post on PPS Equity. [Here's Nancy's farewell.]For two years we have documented inequities in Portland’s largest school district and advocated for positive change.  Along the way, we’ve explored how to use new media tools to influence public policy and foster a more inclusive form of democracy.

The reason for this shutdown is simple: we are moving our family out of the district, and will no longer be stakeholders. A very large part of our decision to leave is the seeming inability of Portland Public Schools to provide access to comprehensive secondary education to all students in all parts of the city. We happen to live in a part of town — the Jefferson cluster — which is chronically under-enrolled, underfunded and besieged by administrative incompetence and neglect. We have no interest in playing a lottery with our children’s future, and no interest in sending our children out of their neighborhood for a basic  secondary education. These are the options for roughly half of the families in the district if they want comprehensive 6-12 education for their children.

While there are some signs that the district may want to provide comprehensive high schools for all, there is little or no acknowledgment of the ongoing middle grade crisis. If the district ever gets around to this, it will be too late for my children, and thousands of others who do not live in Portland’s elite neighborhoods on the west side of the river or in parts of the Grant and Cleveland clusters.

It cannot be understated that the failure of PPS to provide equally for all students in all parts of the district is rooted in Oregon’s horribly broken school funding system, which entered crisis mode with 1990′s Measure 5. A segregated city, declining enrollment and a lack of stable leadership and vision made things especially bad in Portland.

But Portland’s elites soon figured out how to keep things decent in their neighborhoods. The Portland Schools Foundation was founded to allow wealthy families to directly fund their neighborhood schools. Student transfers were institutionalized, allowing students and funding to flow out of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and shore up enrollment and funding in the wealthiest neighborhoods.  Modest gains for Portland’s black community realized in the 1980s were reversed as middle schools were closed and enrollment dwindled. A two-tiered system, separate and radically unequal, persists 20 years after Measure 5 and nearly 30 years after the Black United Front’s push for justice in the delivery of public education.

PPS seems to be at least acknowledging this injustice. Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson laid it out to the City Club of Portland last October: “It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind… when based on race and zip code roughly 85% of white students have access to opportunity in rigorous college prep programs, curriculum and resources compared to 27% of black students.”

Despite this acknowledgment, the district is only addressing this inequity in the final four years of a K-12 system. We don’t, in fact, have a system, but a collection of schools that vary significantly in terms of size, course offerings, and teacher experience, often correlating directly to the wealth of the neighborhoods in which they sit.

As the district embarks on their high school redesign plan, which is largely in line with my recommendations, predictable opposition has arisen.

Some prominent Grant families rose up, first in opposition to boundary changes that might affect their property values, then to closing Grant, then to closing any schools. (They seem to have gone mostly quiet after receiving assurances from school board members that their school was safe from closure. Perhaps they also realized that they have more to fear if no schools are closed, since it would mean the loss of close to 600 students at Grant if students and funding were spread evenly among ten schools. In that scenario, the rich educational stew currently enjoyed at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson will be a thinned out to a thin gruel. It would be an improvement for the parts of town that long ago lost their comprehensive high schools, but a far cry from what our surrounding suburban districts offer with the exact same per-student state funding.)

There is also opposition from folks who reflexively oppose school closures, many of them rightly suspicious of the district’s motivations with regards to real estate dealings and their propensity to target poor neighborhoods for closures.

Finally, there is opposition on the school board from the two non-white members, Martín González and Dilafruz Williams.

González’s opposition appears to stem from the valid concern that the district doesn’t have a clue how to address the achievement gap — the district can’t even manage to spend all of its Title I money, having carried over almost $3 million from last year — and that there is little in the high school plan that addresses this. (It’s unclear how he feels about the clear civil rights violation of unequal access this plan seeks to address. It seems to me we should be able to address both ends of the problem — inputs and outcomes — at the same time . The failure to address the achievement gap should not preclude providing equal opportunity. It’s the least we can do.)

Williams noted that she doesn’t trust district administrators to carry out such large scale redesign, especially in light of the bungled K-8 transition which she also opposed. It’s hard to argue with that position; the administration has done little to address the distrust in the community stemming from many years of turbulent and destructive changes focused mainly in low-income neighborhoods.

But more significantly, Williams has long opposed changing the student transfer system on the grounds that it would constitute “massive social engineering” to return to a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Ironically, nobody on the school board has articulated the shameful nature of our two-tiered system more clearly and forcefully as Williams. But as one of only two non-whites on the board, Williams also speaks as one of the most outwardly class-conscious school board members. In years past, she has said that many middle class families tell her they would leave the district if the transfer policy were changed.

(Note to director Williams: Here’s one middle class family that’s leaving because of the damage the transfer policy has done to our neighborhood schools. And it’s too bad the district can’t have a little more concern for working class families. I know quite a few parents of black and brown children who have pulled their kids from the district due to its persistent institutional classism and racism.)

Williams (along with many of her board colleagues) has also long blamed the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the massive student outflows from our poorest schools, but this is a smokescreen. Take Jefferson High for example, which was redesigned in part to reset the clock on NCLB sanctions. Yet despite this, the district has continued to allow priority transfers out. Jefferson has lost vastly more funding to out-transfers than the modest amount of Title I money it currently receives.  If we don’t take Title I money, we don’t have to play by NCLB rules. (This is not a radical concept; the district has chosen this course at Madison High.)

It is hard to have a great deal of hope for Portland Public Schools, despite some positive signals from superintendent Carole Smith. We continue to lack a comprehensive vision for a K-12 system. English language learners languish in a system that is chronically out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The type of education a student receives continues to be predictable by race, class and ZIP code. Special education students are warehoused in a gulag of out-of-sight contained classrooms and facilities, and their parents must take extreme measures to assure even their most basic rights. Central administration, by many accounts, is plagued by a dysfunctional culture that actively protects fiefdoms and obstructs positive change. Many highly influential positions are now held by non-educators, and there is more staff in the PR department than in the curriculum department. Recent teacher contract negotiations showed a pernicious anti-labor bias and an apparent disconnect between Carole Smith and her staff. Principals are not accountable to staff, parents or the community, and are rarely fired. Positions are created for unpopular principals at the central office, and retired administrators responsible for past policy failures are brought back on contract to consult on new projects.

If there is a hope for the district, it lies in community action of the kind taken by the Black United Front in 1980. The time for chronicling the failures of the district is over.

In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

I think this Web site has served to establish injustice. Many of us have tried to work with the district, serving on committees, testifying at board meetings, and attending community meetings. My family has brought tens of thousands of dollars in grant money and donations to the district, dedicated countless volunteer hours, and spent many evenings and weekends gathering and analyzing data.

There is no doubt that injustices exist, and there is no doubt that we have tried to negotiate. It’s time for self-purification — the purging of angry and violent thoughts — and direct action. It’s time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Run, Run as Fast as You Can

Recently, The Oregonian has published a few articles about the new “Race to the Top” grant that Portland Public Schools has signed on for, along with many other Oregon school districts.  The grant stipulates that a student’s test scores will follow teachers, and be part of a teacher’s professional file.  Indeed, a teacher will be evaluated based on a student’s standardized test scores. The state’s willingness to sign on smacks of desperation and ignorance.

Besides the obvious, that “one test does not a good teacher make”, there are numerous other reasons why this clause in the grant is ludicrous.  One is that not all grade levels are tested.  Indeed 3rd-8th and 10th grades are tested consistently in math and reading.  If you teach K-2nd grade, or 9th, 11th, or 12th grades, you just may have dodged a bullet.  In addition, if a teacher teaches subjects such as art, P.E., or social studies, which are not currently tested, then the testing does not apply to them. I would hesitate to bring this up to the state, however, as their answer might very well be to test in every single subject, every, single, year.

I know fabulous teachers who teach at schools that have not traditionally done well on standardized tests.  I happen to teach in a cluster in PPS that typically has low test scores.  I could teach in another cluster, but I choose not to.  Does a teacher magically become a better teacher if he or she moves to a school with higher test scores?  Apparently the state of Oregon thinks so.  I  cut one of the Oregonian articles out to pass around to the staff at my school.  Many teachers said that they would like to consider withholding their dues to the OEA, as our state teacher’s union has signed on with this as well.

There are many, many influences in a child’s life.  A teacher is just one of them.  This heinous grant asserts that a teacher’s sole purpose is to get a child to pass some contrived, intrusive test that has little to do with what he or she does on a daily basis, while also asserting that a teacher is the only one responsible if said child passes or fails.   I’m sorry, but “No Child Left Behind” is starting to look like a picnic.  We need to run far away from “Race to the Top.”

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

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Wacky Mommy vs. Starbase, or Why It’s Wrong for Portland Public Schools to Allow the U.S. Government to Do Military Recruitment on Any Students, But Especially 5-Year-Olds

Awww, does my headline say it all? I believe it does.

Have you heard about Starbase?

From their website:

STARBASE Portland is designed for students Kindergarten through 12th grade.

The goal of the STARBASE Portland Program is to raise the interest and improve the knowledge and skills of at-risk youth in math, science, and technology by exposing them to the technological environment and positive role models found on military bases and installations.

The STARBASE Portland Program curriculum provides 25 classroom contact hours of instruction spread over 5 days. All STARBASE classroom contact hours take place on the Portland Air National Guard Base or Jackson Army National Guard Armory.

PPS parent Cindy Young has heard of Starbase. I have, too. The fifth-graders at my kids’ school know about it now. You know who’s high on it? My children’s principal and, it would appear, their teachers. I am not high on it. I am wholeheartedly against it. I am against it with my whole, hippie, radical left-leaning, socialist feminist heart. We are pacifists at my house, that’s why. You think I’m cool with my kid “playing war” at a military base? Excuse me, but have we met? I’m Nancy. I do not care for war games and a whitewashed introduction to death. C’mere, so I can smack you upside the head. (I am a pacifist; I never said I don’t have a temper. My mama did not raise a fool.)

Instead of “at-risk youth,” as Starbase so patronizingly calls our students, I would like to suggest that they go for some “transparency” and say “cannon fodder,” ie…

“We need more poor kids for cannon fodder because the wars we have been fighting for… well, let me think… your parents’ entire lives, your entire life and your children’s entire lives, too, aren’t going that well.”

You know what comes to mind? That old saying:

“Join the Army; travel to strange, exotic lands; meet interesting people; and kill them.”

My daughter, “That’s horrible!”
Me, “That’s the military.”

PPS is down with military recruitment, we already knew this. And they don’t have any qualms about starting awfully young. That website, it says “kindergarten through 12th grade,” does it not? Five? Age five. Ages five through eighteen. How convenient.

Here is an article that my colleague Anne Trudeau wrote for the Southeast Examiner, Sept. 2005.

ANOTHER SIDE TO THE MILITARY RECRUITMENT STORY
September 2005 Southeast Examiner

William Ramirez was a junior at Franklin High school when he was approached by the Army recruiters who visited there regularly. Annette Pritchard, Ramirez’s aunt, holds up a photograph of nineteen year old William that was found in his belongings after he was killed in Baghdad on February 19, 2004.

“The recruiters became his best friends. They told him that they only took high school graduates. Even after he dropped out of high school, they said he could be an architect or an engineer.”

William served a year in Afghanistan and then went to Iraq. As a member of the 2nd Armored Calvary Division, William was working night patrols in the city of Baghdad. His job was to illuminate targets.

His aunt gazes at the photo of the young man wearing goggles and a helmet. “He was always so shy. We were surprised he looked straight at the camera here. But he still looks scared.”

Spurred on by William’s death, Annette is determined to present another side to the military recruiter’s promises of rewarding career opportunities. Speaking before several dozen people at an August anti-military recruiting workshop in Portland, she lists the subtle and not-so-subtle tactics the military uses to appeal to youth as young as 12 years old. Rock climbing walls at county fairs, military sponsored concerts, the Rose Festival Fleet, and military air shows are all paid for out of the military’s recruiting budget.
“They landed a military helicopter on the playing field of my son’s middle school as a reward for phone cards the students had collected for military personnel.” Annette recalls. Parents were not notified, and attendance was required. Pritchard questioned the motives of this expensive event which cost far more than the money the children raised for phone cards.
Recruiters for the military are common sights in local high schools. The No Child Left Behind Act contains a provision that requires public high schools to hand over the private contact information of students to military recruiters. By September 30, the names of thousands of Portland high schoolers will be given to the military and the private firm that is creating a database to aid in their recruitment efforts.

But students can “opt out” by filling out a form that prevents their private information from being released to the military’s list. Even students who have signed up for the military under the Delayed Entry Program can change their status by notifying the recruiting station Commander.

Members of the Portland Anti-Military Recruiting Coalition will be handing out leaflets at Franklin, Cleveland and other high schools around the city letting students know they have the right to opt out. Annette Pritchard will continue her work with Military Families Speak Out. She wants to talk to every high school student she can, to let them know that there is more to the recruiter’s pitch than meets the eye.

RESOURCES
Leave My Child Alone Coalition
Portland Anti-Military Coalition
Military Families Speak Out
The Military and Draft Counseling Project 503-238-0605

–Anne Trudeau

Rest in peace, my brother. And peace to your family. Peace, peace, peace. I will never grow tired of that word. Peace.

Do you really think that I feel like talking about private matters at my children’s school? With their teachers? Their principal? The other parents? I don’t. Sex, religion and politics are all private, and frankly, it’s no one’s business how I vote, where I donate money, or where I stand on a particular issue. It is still, I believe, a free country, and I don’t like the pressure of having to explain to everyone why I feel the way I do.

It feels like looking down the barrel of a gun to me.

OK, you want to know why we’re opting out of Starbase? I’ll tell you why again and I will say it with pride: We are pacifists at my house. I think it’s a load of crap that our government spends billions of dollars killing mamas, daddies, their babies, grandparents, neighbors, friends, entire communities, in the name of stopping terror. But we can’t seem to get anyone, locally, nationally or internationally, fed or given proper medical care. Jobs would be good. Work and food and clean water and decent healthcare would be a good start. Science, art and music in the schools would just rock, too, wouldn’t it? But that doesn’t seem to be happening, does it?

So who’s terrorizing who, bitch?

I had heard of Starbase, but for my family it came up last school year. The kids are excited — they’ve heard you get to blow things up. Like in video games. The principal is excited, too. “It’s really cool, and they get to blow up rockets.” My daughter called bullshit and said she wasn’t going. I love my girl. Here is the e-mail I sent last spring to my children’s principal and my daughter’s 4th grade teacher:

Dear Mr. — and Mr. —,

Imagine my shock to be told — not asked, but told — that my daughter and her fellow classmates will take part in five full days of Starbase next year.

1) Our country is at war. Having our children go to a military base, while our country is at war, is not a safe or wise decision. That alone is reason enough to cancel the program.

2) I am wondering, as I spend a large portion of my time this year telling my daughter, I’m sorry, but you have to take another test, yes, I know you hate tests, and No, you’re not going to flunk fourth grade if you don’t score high — I am wondering why on earth we would devote five full days of curriculum to military indoctrination? (Because that is what it is. It’s the first steps on the road to recruitment.)

3)I am wondering, at a time when we parents are being told how “stuffed” the curriculum is, how you can justify them missing five days of school?

4) I’m asking you to cancel our school’s participation in the Starbase program.

5) I am doing this because it goes against everything I am teaching my children about “lifeskills,” and “conflict resolution” and “peace and respect.” I am asking you in remembrance of my late friend, David Johnson, who was killed in Iraq. I wrote about him here:

“He was a nice guy, you would have liked him. Very easygoing. Wanted to please. He was pretty shy. His family declined to be interviewed by the Army. The governor said, “He did not die in vain.” No, he died because he signed up to be a cook and ended up working as a machine gunner. God rest his soul, and peace to his family and those who loved him.”

In case you are missing my point: You will remember, please, that our country is at war. You will remember that our country is short on soldiers and that is why the government is happy to foot the bill for field trips like these, in order to send the kids a message that the military is “fun” (math games! science! and we’ll help pay for college!).

In case you have never noticed: The government is especially fond of recruiting at schools with high poverty rates, where brown, black, and poor whites attend school. They target children who think they have no options in life besides joining the military. The government needs more cannon fodder.

You will remember America is responsible for the deaths of at least 723,206 people who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimates. Most recent update: January 25, 2009. (Edited to say: At least 849,845 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimate, according to numbers posted Dec. 29, 2009.)

Thus far, 4,197 Americans have died in the Iraq war.

Here is the Willamette Week story about the Winterhaven parents’ protest of Starbase.

And, from the Neighborhood Schools Alliance site.

They requested that PPS “Pull the plug on Starbase — stealth military recruiting of PPS elementary students. NSA leader Cindy Young and fellow Winterhaven parents recently testified to the School Board regarding this Department of Defense-funded program in which elementary-aged PPS students spend 5 days at a military base learning about science and technology, but also being subtly groomed for future military recruitment. This program is not mentioned on the PPS website. There has been no Board or public oversight of Starbase at any time since the program’s introduction in Portland back in 1993. NSA calls on the School Board to launch an immediate investigation into this inappropriate and possibly illegal program.”

I will bring in political allies and the media on this if needed.

Respectfully,

Nancy Rawley

(Edited to say: You can find Starbase mentioned on the PPS site now, here and there. It is described as a “science program” and the mentions are along the lines of calendar items — which schools are taking part in the program.) Last year, my daughter’s school promised that they would offer “non-military alternate programming” at the school for students who did not want to or could not participate in the Starbase program. The Oregon Peace Institute and some of the staff at Portland State University said they would be happy to lend a hand, but that didn’t get a warm response from PPS.

Now I am being told that my daughter and whoever else protests can go “sit in someone else’s classroom” for the five days their peers are playing war games. No, we’ll figure something else out, thanks.

By the way… reportedly five PPS employees are being paid by the U.S. military to “administer” the Starbase program. That money would pay for a whole lot of microscopes and science supplies, wouldn’t it? Maybe even some staff? But then the military would be short a few bodies, and we couldn’t have that.

Peace. And I mean that, with all my heart.

– Wacky Mommy

Nancy Rawley was co-publisher of PPS Equity. She blogs regularly at Wacky Mommy.

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Title I: Did You Know….

The No Child Left Behind act requires public school districts to provide Title I services to eligible public and private school students.

Title I Overview

This is the part of No Child Left Behind that supports programs in schools and school districts to improve the learning of children from low-income families. The U.S. Department of Education provides Title I funds to states to give to school districts based on the number of children from low-income families in each district.

US Department of Education Audit of ODE

The US Department of Education audit on Oregon’s Title I program in 2008 produced many findings centered on accountability.  Among other things, there was an almost complete absence of oversight in how some Oregon districts handle services to private school children.  The findings listed below are taken directly from the Title I report (emphasis mine).

Finding (1): The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not ensured that its LEAs (school districts) maintain control of the Title I program for eligible private school children and their families and teachers. For example:

  • As part of the process for selecting a third-party provider in PPS, private school officials meet with potential providers without district officials present.
  • PPS provides its third-party providers with a list of possible criteria to use to select students for services, but leaves it to the third-party provider and private school officials to decide which criteria are actually used.
  • PPS gives the third-party provider and the private schools the responsibility of deciding the types of services (i.e., reading or math) that students selected for services receive and how the services will be evaluated.
  • In Woodburn School District (WSD) the private school officials develop the plan for services, the selection criteria, and how the services will be evaluated.

Finding (2): The ODE has not ensured that its districts have consistently met the requirements for consultation with private school officials regarding: (1) the method or sources of data the district will use to determine the number of private school children from low-income families residing in participating public school attendance areas; and (2) the evaluation of the Title I program for private school children.  PPS tells interested private school officials to report free and reduced priced lunch data in October without first consulting with them concerning the different options that may be used to obtain data on low-income students.  PPS’s affirmation form does not include this topic.  In both PPS and WSD the third-party contractor designs the evaluation of the Title I program for private school children.  Neither LEA has determined in consultation with private school officials how the Title I program for private school children will be evaluated, what the agreed upon standards are, and how annual progress will be measured.

Finding (3): The ODE has not ensured that its LEAs have consistently exercised proper oversight in awarding contracts for the provision of Title I services to participating private school children.  A contract that PPS has with a third-party vendor to provide services to participating private school children did not have enough detail to enable PPS to determine that the Title I statutory and regulatory requirements are being met.  The contract has not broken out the specific amount for administration, instruction, family involvement, and professional development that the vendor is charging.

PPS’ handling of Title I services to private school children is the equivalent of handing private schools a check and walking away.  Where is the accountability for that?  Unfortunately, this is typical of how PPS manages its money.  District staff consistently argue that questioned expenses are just a small portion of their budget.  They don’t get it that the pennies add up.

The PPS 2009/10 budget includes $20.2 million in Title I funds PLUS $14.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.  PPS reports that the ARRA funds will be targeted towards: standards and assessment; data systems; teacher effectiveness; and support for lowest performing schools.

Schools need the money but they need to use it effectively.  Don’t let the district piss the money away.

Parents:

TAKE ACTION – You have a right to know how your child’s school is spending their money.  Find out if your child’s school is a Title I school.  If so, here are some questions (ask any or all) that you should ask your school principal:

  1. How much has the school been allocated in Title I funding?
  2. How much in funds did the school carryover from last year?
  3. Who was involved in completing the School Improvement Plan (SIP)?
  4. Request a copy of the School Improvement Plan or schedule a time to review it.
  5. Is the school required to provide supplemental services (individualized help for struggling students)?  If so, who is the provider?  What services are provided?
  6. Is the School Improvement Plan and budget aligned?
  7. What parent involvement activities are included in the School Improvement Plan?

Don’t worry about whether you’ll understand all of it.  Most parents don’t understand it.  You’ll get it over time.  The important thing is to ask questions and always follow-up.

If you need help with any of the information you collect, you can email me by going to the About page or you can post questions on this blog.  There’s a very supportive online community of parents with tons of expertise and various perspectives.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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On the blogs: a flurry of new posts

Lili Taylor has been busy over break at Cheating in School, with new and informative posts on Title I and No Child Left Behind, some history on the closure and demolition of Whitaker Middle School, the history of PPS’ ongoing noncompliance with Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and more.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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What do Oregon Educators Want?

Susan Nielsen had a pretty decent article in today’s Oregonian (even a blind squirrel stumbles upon a nut!). Teachers, Nielsen finally realized, aren’t a bunch of lazy, incompetent, know-nothing idiots – they’re actually hard workers, pretty sharp, and — get this — really like kids! What did these teachers list as problems?

  1. Class sizes too big to manage.
  2. Lack of backup during the school day.
  3. Parents who can’t or won’t help.

Small class sizes. Adequate staffing (so teachers can, say, have a 5 minute bathroom break). And let’s get parents involved. Some parents are too busy to visit the classroom regularly – but the school-home partnership is absolutely essential in education.

Now, oh dear Oregonian reporters and editorial board writers, go back and review your fawning over Race to the Top and NCLB-like reform proposals. Do they address ANY of those three problems teachers are currently facing in the classroom?

Nope. And that’s why you have a shitty newspaper.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Our Global Education

Kenneth Libby is an independent education researcher and a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He writes about national education issues, testing and philanthropy on Schools Matter and Global Ideologies in Education.

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A compromise on No Child Left Behind

How about this compromise. Once a child is in the 5th or 6th grade and has passed benchmarks then let’s quit testing him or her. No more NCLB testing, none, zip, nada. This does a lot of positive things yet retains the NCLB idea (albeit corrupted one) of leaving no child behind.

The positive effects are easily seen.

It saves a fortune. It guarantees that once kids can read decently well the schools can focus on broadening their education and not waste horrendous amounts of time and energy testing them over and over. It allows more time and energy and resources to be directed at students who really are behind. Now, much of that effort is diluted on kids who are doing just fine. It creates a different standard for public accountability, one more applicable to good education. “My kid passed benchmarks, now what is she getting?” “My kid hasn’t passed benchmarks. What are you doing to bring her up to grade level?”

I imagine you could even put together a test for some younger children which tested to see if they were at 6th grade level. Heck, a lot of 4th graders could do fine and then be exempt also.

This idea would certainly make a lot more sense than the resource-robbing and education-subverting mess we have now.

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.

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Resist No Child Left Behind, don’t embrace it

Note: this is a response to e-mail sent by Carole Smith regarding Oregon schools’ performance as measured against federal benchmarks. See below for the text of Smith’s e-mail. –Ed.

Portland Public School Superintendent Carole Smith’s unconditional support of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sickens me. “Say what you will about the federal law…” That’s quite an invitation Carole.

Let me start by saying that the roots of NCLB are George W. Bush’s friends in the corrupt Houston School Board who were dishonest from the beginning about the real statistics around their NCLB, lying when it was convenient to cover up their real drop out rates. And then there are those friends of Bush in the text book companies and the “educational consultants” who made so much money off of NCLB “aligned” curriculum while our students and teachers suffered with increased class sizes and less resources. We are sick of corporate style public education system that rations resources; that strips art, music, PE, critical thinking, and most history and geography from our curriculum and replaces it with highly scripted, dumbed-down curriculum for all but the most privileged students. We are tired of the massive influence that real estate developers and anti-tax corporate honchos have on educational decisions.

And in case you think this is just a tirade against Bush, let me add that Obama and Arne Duncan don’t impress me either. Just because they renamed NCLB and call it the Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not mean they have cut the ties to corporate America. Our public education system is still being run by corporations, still suffers in comparison to most other industrialized countries, still is stratified by race and class.

And then Supt. Smith, you have the audacity to blame the students and teachers for these problems? Shame on you. Get rid of the consultants, stand up and reject NCLB, and listen to the teachers who still go to work and try to get some joy and meaning out of the shell of a curriculum you hand them.

This letter from Superintendent Smith makes it clear that this situation will only change when students, parents, teachers and other educational workers unite to fight for a public system that is truly public, that provides a quality education for every student no matter what neighborhood they live in.

Text of e-mail sent from Carole Smith:

Today, the state released reports for every Oregon school and district under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind). Once again, Portland Public Schools had a higher share of schools meeting all the complicated benchmarks set under that federal law than statewide.

I want to particularly congratulate POWER, one of our small high schools on North Portland’s Roosevelt Campus, and Lane Middle School, in outer Southeast Portland — both of which met all the federal standards.

Most Oregon middle schools and high schools fail to meet the federal standards, but those two schools have charted great gains in student achievement, thanks to the dedication and skill of teachers and staff. (Read more about PPS and the federal ratings in today’s news release.)

Along with these success stories, we still have too many schools falling short because too many students aren’t keeping up or aren’t staying engaged. Say what you will about the federal law, I believe we need to reach for high standards. That’s why we’re measuring our progress in preparing all kids for success in life, using defined Milestones — a set of key indicators at early, middle and secondary grades.

For the coming school year, our senior leadership has set goals to increase student performance by 5 percentage points on three of these highly predictive indicators: third-grade reading, seventh-grade writing and credits earned before 10th grade.

We’ve also set goals to close the achievement gap between white students and the lowest performing ethnic subgroup by 5 percentage points on each of those measures.

These indicators will tell us how well our school district is doing as a whole, and how well we are doing for each student by name. They won’t replace the federal ratings and requirements, but they will give us a clearer picture of how well we are preparing our students for success at the next stage of their education — and for success in college or a career.

This is so important that I’m asking the school board to evaluate my performance based on our success in raising student performance in these areas. I’ve told my senior leaders that I will evaluate them based on these targets, too.

It won’t be easy to reach these targets, but keeping more students on track will pay big dividends for the rest of their lives. That’s a goal worth reaching for.

Portland parent activist Anne Trudeau helped found the Neighborhood Schools Alliance.

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In the news: WWeek endorsements, NCLB failure

Willamette Week has endorsed Pam Knowles and Martín González for school board. On the national front, the New York Times reports that the achievement gap persists in spite of No Child left behind.

The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation’s best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Stop Pathologizing Children and Start Helping Them

We need to stop pathologizing the development of children and start concentrating on where they are as opposed to where we think they should be with regard to norm-based benchmarks. The fact that a disproportionate percentage of low-income minorities are not “at grade level” means they are not achieving on norm-based standardized tests at the level of their affluent white peers. Is that really so surprising? We need to give them more of the advantages that their white peers take for granted, not fewer.

Here in PPS, starting in pre-K, kids engage in a curriculum and a school experience that has doing well on the 3rd grade tests as its primary objective. Teachers are focused on regularly measuring kids’ progress through a set of norm-based benchmarks; those kids that are not “at benchmark” are flagged and given additional assistance.

The rationale is that focusing on their measurable skills and providing remediation when necessary will help these kids and will serve as the primary means through which the achievement gap will be closed. But what is not considered is that additional assistance takes more time for both the teacher and the student.

This is time away from other things (e.g., art, music, etc.). The underlying rationale is that low-income minority kids are too far behind and don’t have time to do anything else. So, to “save” them, they are denied art, music, recess, PE, etc., and given a heavy dose of skills-based exercises, most of which are to practice for the test and to close the measurable gap.

In PPS, you hear folks like Jonah Edelman from Stand for Children say that things are not as bad as they are in D.C., “where they do 51 days of test prep.”

But I make the distinction between explicit test prep (a la D.C.) and implicit test prep (a la PPS).

Implicit test prep = a curriculum and a school experience designed to raise the measurable achievement of all students.

Under this test-centric regime, it’s logical that non-tested subjects are given short shrift. But it overlooks the fact that kids, esp. very young kids, need a broad base of experience including art, music, and free, unstructured play (i.e., recess) to develop to their full potential.

Ironically, it’s low-income minority kids that need this broad-based experience even more than their affluent white peers because they are less likely to have these experience outside of school, whereas affluent white kids are more likely to be exposed to art, music, etc.

We also need to take into account that standardized tests are an extremely poor measure of what kids know and can do, and they — at best — only measure a very narrow band of who are they are and what they are becoming. What about attitudes towards learning? What about curiosity? What about tenacity? What about inter and intra-personal communication skills? Creativity? Critical thinking? None of these things are measured, and therefore none of these things count.

Sure, there’s a lot of lip service paid to these things, as well as “teaching to the whole child” and “differentiating instruction” to accommodate their various levels of development. But the fact is that all kids are expected to be at the same place at the same time. If they’re not, then something is said to be wrong with them. We don’t take into consideration the fact that all kids — all people — develop differently and at their own pace.

But we also don’t take into account that not all kids are good at the same things. To hold academic skills up as the holy grail automatically guarantees that a large number of kids are doomed to fail. They are good at other things, but they are never allowed to show they are good at these things or develop their capacity in these other things because these other things simply don’t exist as possible options. Not good at math and not a quick, accurate, fluent reader? Then you’re f*&#$’ed. It’s as simple as that.

If we stopped pathologizing kids’ development and instead focused on where they were, not where we demanded they be via some arbitrary set of standards, we’d go a long way in acknowledging the broad continuum of development that characterizes all people as they learn anything. We’d also be more likely to acknowledge the need to focus on developing the full potential of kids, not just enlarging their craniums and improving their test scores.

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

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