A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

August 7, 2013

Student Learning Among Minorities Flatlines

The WSJ had an interesting article about how the NAEP is reporting smaller gain for minority elementary students since President Obama has gone about dismantling some of the key provisions (the stick in the carrot/stick) of NCLB.  The article is interesting in its information and the data is not surprising that NAEP scores have diminished since many waivers have been granted.

Some may not like the source. That is fine.  My own experiences in education number nearly 30 years with many of them as a public/private school teacher, administrator, and now college professor.  Having participated in legislative sessions, written research which has become policy in China, participated in numerous regional, national and international research projects, and seeing children in a different way than I did as a teacher/administrator, but now as an observer, perhaps my bona fides carry some weight.

In dismantling NCLB a part of the President’s plan was to engage key constituent groups, most notably teacher unions who understandably were against many of the accountability programs.  Another part was to highlight differences for his brand of educational change the DOE offered in Race to the Top.

First – not that it is important – I am not inclined positively towards much of NCLB and it is matched in my ambivalence to  RTP.  I’m equally less than optimistic about the Common Core Standards (the latest silver bullet).  This has come after a great amount of research (much of it published in academe) my own experiences as a classroom teacher, administrator and college professor of teacher education.

I also want to add that when I taught I was very successful.  My students achieved particularly well in state tests before and after NCLB implementation.  This was true when I worked in a rather poorly funded parochial school comprised mostly of middle class and economically disadvantaged students who benefited from scholarships as well as when I worked in an upper middle-class predominantly White school system.  I also was able to work in a school system which was rather diverse with a high number of minority students with many both White and minority receiving free/reduced lunch where our test scores were rising when I was a building level administrator.

I am however horrified at the lack of basic skill sets which many elementary, middle and high school students demonstrate (I see this frequently when I go into the field to observe teacher candidates).  This sentiment sometimes turns to derision when I see what is passing off as education to those who enter college.  I am not one to mince words with those who aspire to be teachers since there is no point to it.  I let them know if they can’t pass entry level classes, can’t do basic research, hand in assignments, show up for class and field placements on time and write with proper conventions of language “they have no business entering the teaching profession”.  This sometimes brings a retort that “I love working with kids”.  My thought is “that’s nice” (translation = I don’t care).  However,  I recommend if they still wish to be a professional teacher they work on their skill sets or consider changing majors.  There is no point in being nice when giving this kind of news.  Just stick to the facts of their skill sets at that time and tell them what it will cost (count the cost are my words to them) to succeed.  Of course those students who are willing to work typically do become successful.  It is my experience that most really do not wish to fill in their own educational gaps and go on with their life.  Life is or should be a self-pruning tree.

The bottom line is always results.  This is true in education, sports or business.  BIll Parcells stated after directing the Giants to a Super Bowl win “you are your record”.  The record of education is mixed at best, but not getting better.

However, I offer a very different view regarding why this overall decline in education as well as ability to think occurs.  The elephant in the room which politicians and most policy wonks disregard is that research shows definitively in the Coleman Reports of the 60’s as well as the Monahan Reports of a few years later, and repeatedly in studies offered by many credible researchers that less than 10% of the sum of learning which occurs in a child (5-18) is due to circumstances in the school.  The overwhelming inputs are related to socioeconomic  factors and in particular input from peers and family.

Now, of course the 10% that occurs within classroom is important and we want strong teachers in all schools.  I am happy to report where I have worked the past few years our teacher candidates score very high on their PLT (Principles of Learning and Teaching) and the Content scores as well as their field placements.  This has been verified by our accreditation bodies (state, regional and national).  Yet, we do not give these graduates magic wands when they matriculate into their field.  This is partly due to the self-pruning tree I and my colleagues have employed in our Teacher Education Program.

Any who want to improve education need to realize that one can’t throw money to a problem or just measuring over and over does not improve results – which is the course the Feds and most states are taking.  Human achievement is rarely substantively changed by the State unless the normal conditions are so egregious that they violate basic human rights and dignity.

Changes in academic achievement occur when children have strong learning skills, inquiry skills and love of learning modeled by those closest to them.  This means by mothers and fathers and others whom they ideally come into contact with every day.  Strong families and strong communities mean strong schools.  The exception to this are residential educational facilities which by and large do exemplary work in educating severely disadvantaged youngsters, but a key element is the moral support of adults within that facility.   It doesn’t take a village to raise a child; it takes a family.  People may want to brush this off as moralistic clap-trap, but the numbers don’t lie.

Children need parents not mere DNA contributors, which is often the case in families in this nation today.  Everyone knows this to be true.

Of course there are many who will want to argue about the causes of poor families, which is an important conversation to have.  However, this does not change the bottom line – the “only” thing that ever matters – that as a group until families in their daily lives reach some level of commitment to their children education for the society will never occur.  The same can be said about any other interaction of youngsters in society.  Education results are just a mirror of society – and this society as a whole is failing.

April 18, 2009

Media and Framing of Culture

This is a paper I authored analyzing an an ethnographic study performed concerning the media and cultural occlusion vis a vis The Vietnam War.

This paper is the intellectual property of the author and may not be utilized in any form without proper citations and/or permission of the author.

The Media as a Framer of Cultural Norms


            In society today, as well as in the past, there is a constant shifting of oppositional positions.  One of the major functions of the media is to inform the general public of the relevant issues which are parties to the constant stir in the social and political realm.  The media – whether in book, radio, television, daily publication, movies, and most recently in electronic weblogs (blogs) – serve a dual purpose in society as a reporter of the events, and also as a framer of the discussion regarding those events.  Media can by the sheer volume of their voice call attention to or occlude reality, and thereby frame a discussion or limit discussion by eliminating it from the public discourse.  A common perception is that the mass media is a vital player in the framer of societal norms, values within a culture which supersedes the framing role of the educational system, family system, and the political system.

            How the media frames a cultural curriculum was the topic of a study (Wineburg, Mosborg, Porat, Duncan; 2004) performed concerning generational perceptions of the Vietnam War, and whether the history represented by the media formed a “collective memory”.  The study posed to answer the question how media and popular culture frame historical knowledge and how it is transmitted across generations. 

Over a course of 30 months, 30 members of 15 families were interviewed about how their conceptualization of the past may form a collective concept about a historical era.  One parent and one child from each family were interviewed about their knowledge and conceptual framework concerning American involvement in Vietnam.  Each member participating in the study was also asked to provide their interpretation of well known photographs taken from the Vietnam Era.  Each of these photographs had become iconic of the Vietnam War Era.

Prior to the interviewing the student’s perceptions of the Vietnam War and the instruction offered concerning the topic were analyzed by the researchers.  Despite the detailed instruction concerning the issues at stake in the Vietnam War by the schools of the students, as a group, had a similar perception of the Vietnam War – “A war without a reason”.

Using well documented photos, produced by the mass media, both parent and child were asked to write down their reactions to the pictures shown by answering open ended questions, such as, “What do you see in this picture?” and “What associations does this picture bring up?”  Later on the responses elicited by each respondent was coded with a graphic textual spreadsheet in order to develop emergent themes from the interview process. 

The first photo used was a picture of a veteran of the Vietnam War looking upon the names etched on the wall while his hand gingerly touches the wall.  Of all the photos presented, this one image was the most identifiable picture.  All of the teens and all but one of the parents (who had been born in the former Soviet Union) were able to recognize the memorial.  Every student also knew what the man was attempting to do.  For the parents, the picture brought back memories of loved ones or friends who had served in the Vietnam War, and the veteran took on a symbolic identification of long remembered people from their past.  However, the students’ answers were more general, with the man depicted in the photo not taking any symbolic meaning at all.  The experience for the adults in the study also reflected their own personal opinions concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam.  Words and phrases such as “resolution”, “respect that was deserved” appeared in the responses in the adults.  Interestingly, the man portrayed in the picture is seen by all as a victim of the war, and not as a perpetrator of war, who is worthy of respect and pity, not hatred.

The second photo is also an icon of the Vietnam War era, a photo of a young man placing flowers in the barrels of guns of soldiers in the 1967 March on the Pentagon.  The adults surveyed instantly identified the clash between the flower and the guns as a symbolic clash of war opposed to peace.  Terms used to qualify the event express the antithetical symbolism the picture displays, “Blocking soldiers with flowers”; Peace, not power”; and “a divided country”.  For the students there was a significant disconnect with the interpretation of the picture.  Only eight of the fifteen could identify the basic concept of peace versus might.  The symbolic elements of the picture were even less easily discerned by the youngsters.  One student thought the soldiers were North Vietnamese, another felt the incident was meant to mourn the dead. 

Interestingly, for the adults, while the first photo brought about feelings of the nation coming to reconciliation about the war, the second photo brought the sharp divide felt by their generation back to the forefront.  One parent spoke warmly of the camaraderie felt by members of the anti-war movement; while another contemptuously replied, “He’s a slime-bucket”.  Part of the student’s problems with this photo was their failure to identify the clean cut youth as a “hippie”.  The young man is clean cut and wearing clean clothing with an overall appearance which does not align with their perception of the prototypical hippie of the 1960’s. 

The third photo, a “hard-hat” rally drew strong responses and identification by the adults in the group, and almost universal misunderstanding by the younger generation.  The rally, which was a pro-war response by blue collar workers in New York City in support of the war in 1970, elicited two polarized replies.  One reply stated that “although there was confusion about the issues in the war, these guys, typical working men, were going to support the government”.  This picture also drew a rather strong comment by an opponent of the war, “These men are a bunch of assholes, guided by their penises”. 

The majority of students were unable to interpret the photo.  One person identified the type of people represented, “blue collar workers”, but had no idea what the purpose of the rally served.  One thought that a sign, which referred to “Building America”, was an anti-war sentiment, as it contrasted the destruction which was going on in Vietnam.  Many of the students were surprised to learn that people actually protested in favor of the Vietnam War.  More than one of the students cited the movie Forrest Gump, which had framed their perception that all of America was against the war, when in reality, as late as 1972 a Gallup Poll showed that 70% of the nation felt a renewed confidence in the prosecution of the war.  However, the media through a repeated message – that the Vietnam War was without support and baseless – had constructed a framework of history apart from the reality of fact.

The findings of this study concluded that the younger people perception of the war had not been formed by instruction or by a true understanding of the concepts involved, but had been formed by images found in media such as movies about the Vietnam War, such as Forrest Gump, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, which were frequently cited as sources of history.  Despite various ethnic and cultural variances, a consistent perception about the war had been formed in these young people, and their perception about the war was remarkably more similar than those of their parents, who had experienced the war from a more personal vantage point.  The young people’s perception allowed no room for pro-war demonstrations and “the silent majority” that supported the Vietnam War.   In the eyes of this generation, removed by the war from time, the Vietnam War was one fought without supporters.  In a real sense cultural occlusion has come about with regard to this historical event, and in effect, the icons of the Vietnam War have been selectively used or occluded to create a historical construct and the largest framer of that occlusion has been the media.

The findings of this study have vast implications for the transmission of knowledge to a society by the media.  The demonstrated ability of mass media to control the flow of information, through a mode of entertainment, gives it the ability to form a cultural curriculum, and a view of historic events which may be anything but a view which is based upon the truth. 

The challenge facing educators is one of coalescence.   In many areas, in particular to this study, The Vietnam War, a common belief about the war has become imprinted upon the framework of the nation.  Any idea which challenges this view reached by occlusion, must take on a cognitive dissonance, which precludes any view other than the one which is currently held.  The common belief of a culture, particularly when spurious, must be challenged by other sources to allow students to use inductive reasoning to frame a true understanding of historical consciousness.  The real danger resides when educators themselves have bought into the common belief of history, which is often formed by ideology rather than reality, and are no longer capable of presenting historical information apart from the vantage point of merely spewing out what other sources have programmed them to say.



Wineburg, Sam; Mosborg, Susan; Porat, Dan; Duncan, Ariel; (2007). Common Belief and the Cultural Curriculum: An Intergenerational Study of Historical Conciousness. American Education Research Journal, Vol. 44, No 1. pp. 40-76.

November 6, 2008

Five Ways to Improve Your Child’s School Achievement

A little bit about me and why I post these tidbits. I am an Assistant Principal of a fairly large, 1256 student, middle school in New York. Prior to taking this position I had served as a teacher in elementary (primary, intermediate) middle school and high school for over 20 years. Throw in five years in the US Army and five children, and you have a pretty varied life experience profile. Everyday I deal with children who are usually struggling in school due to discipline and academics, and yes, the two are usually related.
If I could give advice to parents, particularly of parents of kids in the middle school range, here would be my top ten tips. Remember, as a parent you are ultimately responsible for “your child’s” education. It is not solely up to the school.

1) Make time to talk about you children’s day at school everyday. Do not accept this standard conversation which takes place probably EVERY night in 90% of the homes in the US.
Parent: How was school today?
Child: Fine.
Parent: What did you do today?
Child: Nothing.

Make your child talk about what they learned today. Ask them how the lesson was taught. Ask them about their homework and if they understand their assignments.

2) Set a designated time and place for homework assignments. Do “NOT” let your child work in their room unsupervised. You, the parent, have no way to see if in reality your youngster is truly doing their work, or going through the motions. Make sure that this designated space is relatively quiet and that you have adequate supplies available. You the parent set the environment, not the child.

3) Regularly go through your youngster’s agenda and planner book. Make sure that he/she is filling it out accurately and that there are assignments written down in some consistent manner. Most students will have independent work opportunities three to four times a week (that’s homework). Insist that homework be completed.

4) Make a calendar for tests and major projects. For students transitioning from elementary to middle school, the task of having one teacher delivering content instruction, to having four to five teachers who deliver content area instruction is overwhelming in “most” cases. Make sure that you know when the tests are given.

5) If you have a question ASK THE TEACHER. I am amazed at how many parents accept “I don’t know” from their children when they ask a question. You’d be amazed at how many times educators hear that also. If you can’t get a straight answer from your child, call the school and ask the teacher to call you. You’d be surprised, it is rare that a teacher will not be “thrilled” that you want to know what is going on so you can support your teacher.

Parenting is work and a responsibility. My feeling is that in a child’s education is analogous of a three legged stool, which are composed of the parents, the teachers, and administrator. We all agree that we want the child to succeed. Of course there may be conflict. Just remember you’re a team and that means you need to work together to succeed. That means mature conversations and shared expectations.

Maybe this is a bit oversimplistic, but if your child is not meeting their potential put checks next to what you are doing. If you didn’t check four or more, your grade failed.

Don’t worry, I talk to the teachers next time!

May 17, 2007

The GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part VII

The last, at least for now, in my lengthy rejoinder to a post made at Maggie’s Notebook and Morewhat.com concerning the GOP Debate, Federal role in public education and NCLB.

This is the last part of my conclusions, and I confess that this is an area where I am a bit of an ideologue, towards some of the challenges facing implementation and the need for NCLB mandates.  I have written many more position papers on this topic, and may publish some of them here.   I have also included a list of the references which were cited in the previous posts for those who are truly bored and have nothing better to do other than search for scholarly papers.

Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life; I came to myself in a dark wood; where the straight way was lost”.  At the moment this could aptly describe the state of education in hard to staff schools, however, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon.  The challenge of educators is to reach that new horizon.

In summation, it would be constructive to consider what real leaders say about educating all children:

            “Until the gap is closed, our work is not done.” (Des Moines Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, Des Moines Register, 4/15/03).

            “There are people who’ll say, ‘Given the neighborhood a child is from, what do you expect.”  It’s our job to say there are no excuses – that we have to address students’ needs so they can achieve.” (Frank Tinney, director of standards, assessment and accountability in the Palm Springs Unified School District, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA), 4/8/03).

            “It’s not that they are failing so much as we are failing…This shines a very bright light on something we have known for years but haven’t been forced to deal with until now —- that we have to close this massive gap if all of our students are going to succeed.”  (Ken Noonan, Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent, North County Times (CA), 5/25/03).



DarlinDarling-Hammond, L. (2001). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy
evidence, Education Policy Analysis Archives (8) 1

Darling-Hammond, L. & Youngs, P. (2002). Defining “highly qualified teachers:” What does
“scientifically-based research” actually tell us? Educational Researcher, 31 (9): 13-25.

Education Trust (2004). Measured progress: Achievement rises and gaps narrow, but too slowly,
October, 2004.

The Education Trust (2006). Testimony of Russlynn Ali, Director, Education Trust-West Before
the Commission on No Child Left Behind April 11, 2006

Esch, C. E., Chang-Ross, C. M., Guha, R., Tiffany-Morales, J. & Shields, P. M. (2004).
California’s teaching forces, 2004: Key issues and trends.  Santa Cruz, CA, The Center for the
Future of Teaching and Learning

Hanushek, Eric, (1971). The Effects of Quality Teachers, American Economic Association,
(61)(2), 280-88.

Hanushek, E., Kain, J., & Rivkin, S. (2004). The revolving door, Education Next, (3) Winter, 77

Lankford, Hamilton, Susanna Loeb, & James Wyckoff (2002). “Teacher sorting and the plight of
urban schools.”  Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis. (24)(1) 37-62.

Learning First Alliance (2005) A shared responsibility, staffing all high-poverty, low-performing
schools with effective teachers and administrators.

Loeb, S. (2000). How Teachers’ Choices Affect What a Dollar Can Buy: Wages and Quality in
K-12 Schooling. Proceedings from the Symposium on the Teaching Workforce. Albany,
New York, Education Finance Research Consortium, November 8.

Moir, S. (2006). Understanding New York City’s Groundbreaking Induction Initiative. New
Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, US Department of Education, ed.gov

Pierce, C. (2001). California’s initiative to attract highly qualified teachers into low performing
schools. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher

Reeves, Douglas. (2000). “The 90/90/90 Schools: A Case Study.” In Accountability in Action.
Denver, CO: Advanced Learning Press.

Rice, J. (2003), Teacher Quality, Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes, EPI

Roza, M. (2005).  Strengthening Title I to help fund high-poverty schools. Center on Reinventing
Public Education, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington

Southeast Center for Teaching Quality (2005). Unfulfilled promise: Ensuring high quality
teachers for our nation’s students.

Sunderman, Gail; Kim, Jimmy; Teacher Quality: Equalizing Educational Opportunities and
Outcomes. The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, April 2005

US Department of Education (2004). The Secretary of Education’s Annual Report, ed.gov

Walsh, K., & O’Tracy, C. (2005). Increasing the odds: How better policies can yield good
teachers, National Center for Teacher Quality

Walsh, K (2006). Teacher education: Coming up empty, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Walsh, K., & Snyder, E (2004). Searching the attic: How states are responding to the
nation’sgoal of placing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, National Center for
Teacher Quality.

Wayne, Andrew J. and Peter Youngs. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement
gains: A review.” Review of Education Research. (73) (1)89-122



The GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part VI

This is where I post my own humble conclusions about what I had offered from the body of literature.  It is also where I speak in my own – admittedly not so reasoanble voice.  On this issue I come as close as I ever do to becoming an ideologue.  It is not based upon a liberal or conservative view of the world, but it is based upon a passion which I feel towards teaching children.  I have literally cried when I consider the challenges facing teachers and learners in this present day.  I also believe strongly that in this case in particular Federal intervention was needed, but was also long overdue.  I may later present the legal arguements I brought forward in an education policy class in defense of Federal actions in this traditionally state manner.  I did so from legal rulings in the past based upon Constitutional cases.

Again, my thanks to Maggie’s Notebook and Morewhat.com for posting on this topic.


When faced with these challenges it is understandable that many would throw up their hands in despair.  These challenges may have been exacerbated by NCLB’s requirements of each school possessing highly qualified teachers, and annually holding schools accountable for the measured academic achievement of each student. 

However, an alternate theory may be that NCLB exposed existing inequality in the public school systems across the nation.  While many would say that NCLB is a series of unfunded mandates,  a countering argument can be made; that the federal government stepped into an area that should have been addressed and funded by the states a long time ago.  Candidly, if the problems associated with the education of inner-city poor and minority children were typical of the affluent, predominately white suburbs, one can only imagine how quickly the issues regarding equity in education would have been addressed.  The inferred message that American public schools sent was, as long as the white, affluent, and middle class children of the suburbs are performing well, education is fine.  Poor children, particularly those of color, do not count in the evaluation of school performance.  Those that would refute this supposition should take a look at the lack of a coherent and cohesive policy prior to NCLB to address equity in education; look hard, none existed.

Failure to face the challenges of providing quality teachers and education in hard to staff schools is nothing more than a failure of leadership.  Rather than addressing the inherent fiscal bias, the inherent racism of public perceptions, and unlawful application of federal funding measures, administrators react to the remarkably reasonable mandate that all public schools adequately educate children in the following manner:

“I have difficulty with the standards because they’re so unattainable for so many of our students . . . We just don’t have the same kids they have on Long Island or Orchard Park.” (Superintendent, Buffalo Schools; The Buffalo News, October 21, 2002).

If a school has five subgroups (of students) and four do well, but one fails, the entire school is a failure.  We don’t think that’s fair.” (Reg Weaver, President of the NEA, Whittier Daily News, 5/24/03). 

No matter how these statements are parsed, explained, or justified, they infer prejudice based upon race and financial background.  These statements truly mean, “Some children – particularly those who are poor and are of a different color than the majority – can’t learn”. 

In our society it is a given that all can pass a road test to get a driver’s license.  It is a sad commentary that educational leaders have less confidence in a person’s ability to learn to read, write, and compute mathematics based upon their race and financial background, than they do in their ability to learn how to drive a vehicle, obey laws of operation of said vehicle, and maintain said vehicle as a part of their daily routine.  “What these “leaders” say is heard by parents – about whose kids matter, by students – about how much the educators think they can learn, and by teachers – about if they should consider or even should they try to educate these students” (Education Trust, 2006).  These “leaders” should just exit the door, and not bother coming back.  America’s students, particularly those who need leaders, deserve far better.

            While real leaders may not like some of the implications of NCLB law, it is fair to consider that fifty years ago many did not like the implications of another federal law, Brown v. Board of Education.  There are quite probably difficulties, and areas of the federal law that will require revision.  However, NCLB mandates, at the very least, accomplishes a great deal by the following: (1) Requiring states to perform their gate-keeper responsibility in monitoring minimal teacher quality: (2) Requiring states to measure student achievement by objective standards, and thereby also measure school efficacy; (3) Requiring states to compile data in a disaggregated manner to allow an understanding of various impacts that social setting, economic diversity, racial composition, and other factors have upon student achievement; (4) Promoting equity to the schools which are in most in need; and who for years have been victimized by policies which are inherently biased due to race and economic status; having the cumulative effect of de facto segregation laws, in our public schools.  

Much has occurred with regard to meeting NCLB’s mandate concerning Highly Qualified Teachers in every classroom by the end of the current school year( this was written awhile back).  Clearly, this goal has not been reached by many of the states, and what remedy may be applied by the federal government towards those states and schools in non-compliance has not been determined.  One solution, that at first appears to be obvious, may not be correct.  Simply adding funding, to increase teacher salaries, may not be the best answer.  It is not practical to expect salaries to increase the estimated 25% to 43% that research shows would be needed for many teachers to stay in their current assignment within high need schools.  Trends in education concerning factors inside the workplace, offer a good deal of hope, and may offer a local and internal solution to a problem.  Rather than the traditional approach of throwing money at a problem, which in the case of Title I has been shown to often be ineffective, schools need to investigate what they can do internally to improve their efficacy, such as happened in Milwaukee.

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part V

Again, I give credit to Morewhat.com and Maggie’s Notebook for bringing this vital area of national policy to the front row.  Although we may disagree upon the implementation of the policy, this topic is certainly worthy of discussion.

This segment will analyze and review the radical reform that the inner city schools of Milwaukee, which was launched under an initiative by then Governor Tommy Thompson, which made me “very” interested in his candidacy, undertook in the late 1990’s and early 2000 years.   This section focuses on what schools are doing to help improve efficiency, effectiveness, and equity.   The latter part of this post deals with “hypothetical” recommendations to be made to the Department of Education, or maybe to a GOP candidate!

The Milwaukee Miracle

While the evidence shows that all is not well with the state of schools meeting NCLB’s challenges regarding teacher quality, there is a basis for hope.  This hope rests upon the basis that quality teachers and sound district policies can make an impact upon children. One of the most startling examples was found in the City of Milwaukee’s public schools.

Analysis of data collected from 1995 to 1998 (Reaves, 2000), from over 228 diverse schools serving over 130,000 students of diverse traits, found that there are associations between school quality, some teaching qualities and student achievement.  This was found to be true in schools where: more than 90% of their student body eligible for free and reduced lunches, more than 90% of the students belong to ethnic minority groups, and more than 90% of the students met or achieved high academic standards, as measured by independently conducted tests.  The characteristics that these schools shared were: a focus on student achievement, clear curricular choices reached by collaborative efforts, frequent assessment, an emphasis on writing, and external, collaborative scoring of work.  Interestingly, consensus on the success of this approach is agreed upon by politically conservative voices (Heritage Foundation) and liberal voices (The Education Trust).  These findings also seemingly echo Hanushek’s findings, concerning factors other than salary, leading to teacher retention and student achievement. 


            From the literature a few findings demand attention regarding current school policy.  The following recommendations should be applied: 

(1) Strict control and regulation concerning allocation of Title I funds to ensure funding lands into the schools that need it the most (Roza, 2005).

(2) Each state setting up grants that encourage teachers to work in schools needing highly qualified teachers the most (Pierce, 2001). 

(3) A longitudinal study, financed by a public agency, regarding the teacher-mentoring program embarked upon by New York City Schools to measure if factors within a particular building can be attributed to teacher retention (Moir, 2006, Hanushek et al., 2004)

(4) Follow up studies of the Milwaukee schools to determine if such factors, concerning school building climate, being embarked upon by New York City Schools, were present in Milwaukee’s schools (Reaves, 2000, Moir, 2006, Hanushek et al, 2004). 

(5)  Longitudinal studies concerning the traits associated by statute with being a highly qualified teacher and teacher efficacy (Walsh, O’Tracey, 2004)

 (6) A commission, similar to those in the 1980’s and 1990’s, bringing together federal, business, state government, and educational leaders to discuss, analyze, and make recommendations to the United States Congress concerning the efficacy of the 2001 NCLB mandates regarding teacher quality in districts that are typically hard to staff.

More to follow!

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part IV

The fourth in a multi-part rejoinder to a post found on Morewhat.com and Maggie’s Notebook, concerning The GOP Debate, Federal funding of Public Education and NCLB.

This part of my rejoinder to the position that NCLB is not vital policy will concern itself with the lack of teeth in Title I and how teacher retention is not always based on salary, but on other factors found within a particular learning community.

Title I Funding – Putting Teeth in the Title

Part of the solution is supposed to be solved by Title I funding.  While Title I funding is supposed to address these inequities in theory, what happens in practice is often quite different.  Despite enormous growth in expenditures from its early days as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society”, and the astronomical growth of funding stipulated by 2001 NCLB legislation, in most urban districts a systematic bias is built into district allocation legislation.  This bias supports disproportionate funding for schools in the more affluent neighborhoods (Roza, 2005).   Title I funding is meant to equalize educational funding before state and local funds are brought into the mix of school budgets; these funds supplement, not supplant local funding.  To this day this rationale remains the basis of Title I funding. 

However, the “devil lies in the details”.  Typically, schools are resourced at the central district office level by formulas based upon student enrollments.  An example may call for a teacher for every 25 students and add an assistant principal for every 400 students.  Additionally, schools may be able to add staffing on individual needs of schools.  The number of staff, and staffing accounts for typically 80% of a schools budget, are then converted into dollars spent using average salaries for each type of staff.  While this policy makes sense, it can inadvertently hurt schools within the same centralized system that have a needier population. 

Another problem about this centralized system of resource allocation is in human personnel.  Typically, teachers have choice regarding assignments, based upon seniority, and these choices are often part of collective bargaining negotiations.  Typically, these teachers, who choose to leave, are more seasoned, better educated, better compensated, and are allowed to teach in schools with less need, than their less experienced; less well educated, and lower paid counterparts.  These effects are felt greater in larger districts, typically found in inner-city schools, servicing poorer minority students.  

This type of non-categorical allocation of resources has a devastating effect upon high-need schools, which in effect, nullify the legislative intent of Title I.  This effect was shown (Roza, Hill, 2004) by comparing actual spending in five urban districts, Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Houston, Texas; and Denver, Colorado.  It was found that in all school districts, other than Dallas, affluent schools within the same district were funded significantly greater in real dollar value than poor schools within the same system.  The reason for Dallas’ success in its equitable distribution is linked directly to its effective identifier system, in place since the late 1990’s, which tracks student achievement, teacher efficacy, as well as other factors outside the classroom on a longitudinal basis (Hanushek, Kain, Rivkin; 2004).  These findings regarding inequitable distribution of resources are not limited to the cities that were investigated.  Furthermore, districts are allowed to report their salary expenditures on a district wide level, and therefore they can mask the inequities that do exist within their own schools.  The effective result is that money meant to go to schools in need, may not be going where they are most needed, and are authorized to go by Federal statute. The good schools get better, and can be showcased, while poor schools are continually allowed to lag behind.

A casual look into this problem of salary differential may yield a reply that revamping salary structure is the answer to the problem, but this may not be the case.  New York City schools investment in professional development points to other underlying factors, which may be at play, with regard to retaining effective teachers, in hard to staff schools.  Within New York’s Big Five (Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers) districts, teachers in general tend to earn more than the rest of New York State (Loeb, 2000), but they have less qualified teachers.  Also, within the districts, the centralized nature allows for error in allocations, reflected by Roza’s (2004) research.  In spite of large increases in Title I expenditures, and federal mandates concerning their distribution, school districts do not adequately finance and staff individual schools that possess the greatest need, and within these larger districts affluent schools are typically over financed.

It’s not ALL about the Benjamins

Other research (Hanushek, Rivkin, Kain; 2004) adds to the body of knowledge concerning factors regarding school staffing.  In research that attempted to answer why teachers choose to work in certain schools over others, it was found that working conditions matter more than salary to most school teachers.  By utilization of Dallas’ impressive data base, information, concerning teachers and students, is able to be measured using a fixed effect, longitudinal approach, which enables research a better opportunity to isolate competing variables.  The four major areas that influence teachers to remain in a school are: (1) characteristics on the job, including salary and working conditions, (2) alternative job opportunities, (3) teacher’s own job preferences, (4) district personnel policies. 

Strong factors in teacher retention are the opportunities that may exist in the private sector for an individual teacher.  As an example, a math or science teacher typically has more options, which may be financially advantageous, than an English or elementary teacher.  This study under review considered that factor by limiting the subjects under consideration to elementary teachers. 

The major findings of this study were: (1) Teachers transfer from one school to another more often as a reaction to the characteristics of their students and perceived working conditions, more than in response solely to better pay in other schools.  (2) Teaching lower achieving students is a strong factor in decisions to leave Texas public schools. (3) The ability of a school district to retain teachers eases as the teacher progresses within a particular school district.  This is due in large part giving up higher salaries that come from experience within a school district. (4) To retain teachers in urban areas, by just salary adjustment, an average increase of 25% to 43% would be needed.

More to follow…….

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part III

The third in a likely VERY long series of posts about the GOP, Public funding of education, and NCLB.

Gaps, Gaps, Everywhere There are Gaps

The problem with regard to equity in the nation’s public schools goes beyond merely finding qualified teachers to staff the buildings.  The Education Trust has identified the problems in four general categories (2006).  The first is a teacher gap, which has an inequitable distribution of qualified teachers.  The second area of concern is the lack of uniform standards, which promote equality in learning opportunities due to expectations.  The third area is a gap in the rigor of curriculum in many high-poverty schools as compared to typical schools found in predominately white suburban areas.  The fourth area to be addressed is the funding gap, as evidenced by the CSE lawsuit, where fewer dollars are spent to those schools that have the largest populations of students in need.  The end result of these inequalities is a real gap in performance, and perhaps more dangerously, a disparity in expectation, characterized correctly as “a soft prejudice of low expectations”, by President Bush in introducing NCLB legislation.  This perception is shown by data released by The Education Trust (2006), when it found in a survey of teachers that 60% of all teachers felt that disadvantaged students should be held to lower expectations.  Clearly, this low level of expectation is becoming more of a self-fulfilling prophecy in too many of the nation’s schools. 

Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Teachers, A National Problem

This problem of recruiting, attracting and retaining high quality teachers is not isolated to the “Big Five” school systems in New York; it is a national problem.  In comparison to the largest state in the nation, California, New York’s problems pale in comparison.  California’s problems are heightened by the large proportion of ESL students that their schools need to serve.  Schools in the most crowded and least successful schools experienced large enrollments bumps in the 1990’s, and that factor coincided with a teacher population that was declining.  In 2000, Governor Davis and the legislature dedicated twenty million dollars to recruit, train, and retain the estimated 300,000 teachers that would be needed by 2010 to replace retiring teachers (Pierce, 2001). 

The funds used were earmarked to attract, train, and retain teachers to work in schools that are typically hard to staff; typically these are inner city, high poverty schools.  One of the features was a grant of $20,000 to assist potential teachers in completing their post baccalaureate studies, in a college or university recognized by the California Department of Education.  This served a dual function of attracting qualified teachers to work in hard to staff schools, and to increase their efficacy upon completion of their studies.  After completion of their studies, the new teachers are statutorily required to teach in a needy school for four years.  This initiative has enjoyed success.  Early results, tracking the progress of nearly 1,250 teachers who have participated in this program, have shown increases in teacher efficacy, as monitored by student achievement. 

However, promising these results may be, California’s overall picture is dismal regarding teacher quality in hard to staff schools.  Poor and minority children still do not receive equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers.  Students that live in the areas of highest poverty are twice as likely to be taught by unqualified teachers (Esch, C. E., Chang-Ross, C. M., Guha, R., Tiffany-Morales, J., & Shields, P.M. (2004), and students that are within a minority group are three times more likely to be taught by teachers of low quality.  The outcomes of these students are also related to the incomes, regarding teacher quality.  In the schools where unqualified teachers were the most prevalent, 66% of the students tested, failed exit exams.  Although California’s initiatives are a step in the right direction, it is uncertain if the level of support provided by the legislature will meet the demands of its students.

Other aspects of California’s initiatives are being modeled by the New York City School System (Moir, 2006).  These include in-depth mentoring of new teachers, with a price tag of $36 million.  The collaboration of Mayor Blooomberg, the Chancellor of NYC schools, and the powerful teacher’s union of the city schools, is unprecedented, and will bring about the largest and possibly most aggressive overhaul of a teacher support system on record (Moir, 2006).  How this came about is an inquiry that begs to be answered, and this answer may lie in other research concerning findings in hard to staff schools. 

There are many issues concerning the retention of teacher’s salaries, particularly in hard to staff schools.  One consideration is salary differences between these schools, which are typically urban and have high levels of poor minority students, and their counterparts in the suburbs, which are typically attended by white students with significant differences in wealth distribution.  California schools mirror this disparity, where the average annual salary differential, even with grants included; between teachers in high poverty schools is over $2,500 per year when compared to low poverty schools.  With regard to racial equity, teachers where minority students make up a high portion of the student body, earn over $3,000 less per year, than in schools where non-minority students attend.

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part II

So much to say about this issue, about which I have very strong feelings.

This is a follow-up from a post from Morewhat.com and Maggie’s Notebook. While I enjoy these blogs immensely, I have a feeling a friendly cat fight may break out. I trust that these fine two blogs will enjoy our agreeable disagreement! 🙂

First off, I will give a disclaimer. I am a teacher and prospective administrator in the public schools. I also support the public school’s mission from a historical and practical perspective. I also will admit that I am probably in the minority of public educators in that I strongly support most of the reauthorization of Title I commonly known as NCLB.

While I feel that there is need of revision in some of the legislation, I would add that with regard to promoting equity in society, and if you work in the public schools, particularly in inner city and rural schools, you know there is a great amount of inequity within this institution, NCLB is one of the most progressive (and I am not a dyed in the wool Conservative) and needed mandates this nation has produced. This will likely be a very lengthy series of posts, and will be gleaned from position papers I have written in pursuit of an advanced diploma in Educational Administration and in papers presented as part of my pursuit of an Ed.D.

In these posts I will be making frequent references to scholarly papers – all of these are empirical studies – no offense to qualitative researchers. I will attempt to be brief.

The first part is an Introduction to NCLB – or why the law came about.

In 2001 the landmark “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001”, (NCLB) was passed overwhelmingly by Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush. NCLB includes statutory mandates that require all teachers in public schools to be “highly qualified” (“No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.” 2002) The law further mandates that each state and district receiving Title I funding develop plans with the goal “to ensure that all teachers teaching in core academic subjects are highly qualified by the end of the 2005-2006 school year” (§NCLB, 2002, 6319 (a) (2)). The law also recognized the difficulties facing schools that primarily service low income children.

Research shows that schools with high poverty rates also attract lower amounts of high quality teachers (Lankford, Loebb & Weikoff; 2002). Therefore, a provision of NCLB was added for states to report the average quality measures for those schools with the highest poverty rates and those with the lowest poverty rates. (Sunderman, Kim, 2005). The purpose of the NCLB highly qualified teacher requirements is to make sure that all students are taught by teachers who really know the content of what they teach (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).

The law was also aware that those schools that suffered the highest poverty rates, typically those within inner city school districts, attracted the teachers that were the least highly qualified. Therefore, by statute schools were required to dedicate 5% of their Title I entitlements towards professional development. Furthermore, states were given the ability to receive additional funding by utilization of Improving Teacher Quality Grants. It was intended that this funding be used to aid schools in recruiting, training, retaining, and developing highly qualified teachers. (Sunderman, Kim, 2005)

The Need for Highly Quality Teachers

A large body of research shows that students taught by a highly qualified teacher perform significantly better than those that do not receive such training (Darling-Hammond, 2001; Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002; King, Rice 2003; Loeb, 2000; Wayne & Youngs, 2003). Indeed, the quality level of the teacher is the single most important factor in educational achievement, and the effects are cumulative in nature. A well regarded study by Eric Hanushek stated “the estimated difference in annual achievement growth between having a good and having a bad teacher can be more than one grade-level equivalent in test performance” (p.107). Furthermore, it has been shown that those students that suffer from the highest gap in achievement have the greatest need for highly qualified teachers, and that those schools that have the greatest need of these highly qualified teachers lack them significantly more than other schools (Sunderman, Kim, 2005).

Nationally, many schools, including those in New York State, are struggling with finding highly qualified teachers to fill the ever increasing needs of areas that traditionally are at risk due to low student achievement. (Sunderman and Kim; 2005) In most cases the shortages of highly qualified teachers can be found in large urban cities and rural areas spread throughout the nation (Lankford, Loebb & Weikoff; 2002). The challenge of finding highly qualified teachers to fill these traditionally hard to staff schools is increasing partially by other aspects of NCLB legislation (Southeast Center for Teacher Quality, 2005). Part of the NCLB legislation involves measuring annual school performance on the basis of standardized testing. Traditionally, schools that lacked highly qualified teachers lagged behind other schools without such a lack, and some studies suggest the proposed remedies offered by NCLB may be exacerbating rather relieving the disparity in attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers to stay in schools that suffer from low student achievement (Walsh & Snyder, 2004; O’Tracy, Walsh, 2005; Walsh, 2006).

In New York State the greatest area of need for highly qualified teachers is found within urban settings such as New York City and Buffalo (Sunderman, Kim, 2005) Yet, these inner city schools have a much higher proportion on teachers who are not highly qualified working with students than those in suburban areas. Typically the inner city schools service children who are by a great majority, poorer, in greater need of extra resources, have significantly less financial resources, and are composed of significantly more minority students than their suburban counterparts. (Learning First Alliance, 2005) While significant progress has been made in narrowing the wide achievement gap in student performance in New York State in math and language arts (Education Trust, 2004) much more work needs to be done before it can be stated that there is any semblance of parity between the urban schools and those of their suburban counterparts.

More to follow…………

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder

Maggie’s Notebook and MoreWhat.com crossposted about the GOP debate and the Federal role in education. I will offer commentary and a Rejoinder.

It is impractical to expect the federal government to solve the education problem in this country. The press release authors could only be addressing NCLB or federal funding, grants and other money related issues as well as any regulations that affect education. And money at the federal level is not what will solve the education problems in this country. At least not the ones about how well educated are children become.

While there is merit into this statement, a countering view would be that the problem is so large, so pervasive, and so institutionally driven by other factors, particularly by forces of race and wealth, that there is “de facto” segregation in our public school system that is not in the interests of local schools to address. This “de facto” segreation offers a two tiered level of opportunity and the only agency that can bring equity to this failed system are the Feds.

Money alone does not educate children. With the exception of disasters or districts that have been poorly managed or somehow deprived of money for infrastructure, money is not what will solve the problem. Education is the process of teaching children how to function successfully throughout their lives. That requires teachers who can teach. Students who can learn. And a support group including but not limited to, a school district, school board, schools with the necessary amenities as well as parents and/or other adults to guide them successfully through the process.

While there is also truth in these statements, they are not at all the full truth, and in fact are much more effective as lies by mixing in a grain of truth. To say that money does not matter is folly. The truth is that funds available, and 75% of funds available to a public school are generated by the local tax base, provide the districts with the ability to support budgets which may include more equipment, better pay for staff members, the ability to attract higher quality teachers and retain them, the ability to have facilities which offer signficant advantages to the students of a particular school. When a person is shopping for a house, one of the first questions that are likely to be asked are the quality of the schools. Schools which have reputations of high academic achievement, typically have a history of offering more services to students who may be designated “at risk”, enjoy bases of commercial and industrial wealth which lower the effective tax rate for the residents of such communities. In 2004 the amount of dollars spent by the United States toward education was less than 1% of the money spent by the Nintendo Game Company on research and development. Is there any wonder why there have been revolutions in the gaming industry, and lackluster change in the environmental and hygeine factors concerning public education? In reality, while money alone doesn’t educate children, try doing so without it.

If the systems, groups and individuals at the state and local level are functioning properly, the federal government has little to do but provide funding and assist in defining universal goals and standards that enhance scholastic achievement and its benefits.

This statement is totally true. However, the state and local systems do not function favorably. It was found by the courts recently that in New York State, the schools of New York City, are funded in an inequitable manner, and the State of New York was ordered to redress this situation.

The success or failure of education in this nation lies squarely on the shoulders of the people at the local level. This fact is born out by the uncanny success of home schooled children. The simple fact is some children achieve a good education and others don’t. Educational spending continues to rise and student performance overall continues to fall or remain level. To say that students are unprepared for college is only part of the story. The same Mr Gates who supports this PR maintains American corporations need to import their talent from other countries. This would indicate his analysis changes depending on who he’s talking to or students are also unprepared when leaving institutions of higher learning. The same institutions graduating students from abroad where Mr Gates seeks employees and are claimed to be too expensive for American students.

The success of “home schooled children” may also be linked to other factors. It is wholly conceiveable that those parents who have the means to school their children in a home environment have the financial means to be able to afford to have a parent who is a stay at home parent. Is it more likely that both of these parents are better educated than the parents who can not afford the luxury of schooling their children at home. Also, if a child is being schooled at home, the adult to child ratio is probably 1:1 to 6:1, although there may be some cases where one parent is teaching more than six children, I am not aware of any scientific studies that have documented this phenomena. In a typical public school classroom the adult to child ratio in a non-inclusion environment is often 25:1 or 30:1. To compare the two is a patently unfair.

There is a great deal more evidence which I will offer shortly, but this post has gone too long already. The followup is coming.

Parents, teachers, students, local and state governments have primary responsibility for our children’s educational success and no amount of meddling by the federal government will change that. The federal government can assist and enhance the education function but the primary responsibility remains at home. The place where home schooled children find success.

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