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Sunday, August 12, 2007
What if every American who is able to do so made an effort to visit at least one American military cemetery overseas during his or her lifetime?
Reading that paragraph got me thinking, not merely about the idea of visiting military cemeteries, whether here (I do live in Arlington VA) or overseas. Rather I began to reflect on the idea of the journey, the process. This diary is a product of that reflection, on the idea of pilgrimage.
There are of course several possible meanings of the "pilgrimage." One is a journey, especially of distance, to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion. Another is any long journey, especially if undertaken as a quest or for a votive purposse. In this latter sense traveling to visit the grave of someone you admire would qualify as a pilgrimage.
Such journeys have played important roles in our history and our culture. Think for example of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales which use as a frame people journeying to the site of the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett, an action later honored in the poetic drama Murder in the Cathedral by American-born Nobel Laureate T. S. Eliot. On a far more mundane level, the city of Memphis has benefited immeasurably from the tourist trade generated by its having the location of the home of the "King" of Rock and Roll: Elvis Preslyes' Graceland Mansion may be a commercial site, but it is clearly a destinate of pilgrimage for many.
Even a superficial examination of the behavior of most Americans, whether or not they consider themselves "religious," will demonstrate an inclination to make pilgrimages. Some are personal, perhaps taking the spouse and kids to places important in one's youth, or along on a college reunion, as many of my original college classmates have done at our various gatherings including this year's 40th. It may be visiting the graves of relatives or of dear friends, or of people not known personally but whose prior lives played a major role in one's own: all of these motivations can be seen merely by observing those visiting Arlington National Cemetery, a few short miles from where I write this, and for me a place in which I have participated in funerals both for people I know and for the unmet father of a dear friend.
It may seem somewhat ironic that pilgrimage has played a major role in my life, given that I have chosen to wander through various religions. One destination in Greece clearly carried the religious motivations, but many others were for me equally profound. I will briefly share about my own experience of pilgrimage, perhaps nudging you to reflect on your own.
I have been Jewish, Episcopalian, Orthodox Christian and Quaker. Of these the only one which has for me a pilgrimage association is the Orthodox. The Orthodox Church in America, in which I was for 14 years and in which for some odd reason I held a variety of positions from local to national levels, has several recurring events. These probably qualify as minor pilgrimage events. The annual gathering at St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood NY is probably more of a fraternal gathering and a means of raising money for the seminary than it is strictly speaking a pilgrimage: while eminent men have taught there, one finds no graves at which one honors them. But at St. Tikhon's Monastery and Seminary in S. Canaan, PA, there is a graveyard containing the remains of many of the eminent leaders of the church. Orthodox have a tradition of an annual visit - pilgrimage - to burial sites (although many monasteries dig up the bodies after a year and all that one will find in a charnal house is the bones, sometimes wih the skulls labeled, sometimes not). Locally one will visit and decorate the graves on Thomas Sunday, named for "Doubting Thomas," which on the liturgical calendar falls the Sunday after Pascha (Easter). St. Tikhon's has a Divine Liturgy, food and fellowship, but a key part of the anual event is a procession to the cemetery for a memorial service for the honored department, bishops, monks, honored priests from around the country, their families, and others. This kind of pilgrimage, which I made at least 6 times, is a means of honoring the continuity of the faith tradition. It connects one with those that went before.
During my Orthodox years I also three times went to Mount Athos. This northernmost finger from the Chalkidiki peninsula has had monks on it for more than a thousand years, it is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Center as perhaps the greatest collection of Byzantine art, documents, religious objects and architecture. It is also a functioning center of worship, and a destination for male Orthodox (no females allowed) from all over the world. For a decade my spiritual home was the monastery of Simonas Petras, who spectacular setting gives one little idea of the vibrancy of the spiritual life within. I would go there for up to a month at a time, but at the direction of my spiritual father, the Abbot, also walk all over the peninsula visiting other monastic establishments, large and small. I learned to walk along the wooded paths rather than catching a ride with a logging truck or a bus or 4-wheeled vehicle along the logging roads. The great theologian and writer Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who as lay convert Timothy Ware wrote the most important introductory volume about the eastern church, entitled simply The Orthodox Church once explained why he walked rather than ride by noting that in a pilgrimage the journey is as important as the destination, something we Americans in our haste to arrive often forget. If, as my experience taught me, I am on a trip for the sacred, how I journey is as important as where I am going. Perhaps one can consider it an illustration of a secular understanding that is contrary to the insight of Machiavelli: at least in this context a noble end cannot justify an inappropriate means.
There are other places to which I have gone on pilgrimage. Oh, to be sure, those destinations may not have been the sole reason for the travel I had undertaken, but they were important enough that I ensured I set aside time to visit. That includes Westminster Abbey in London, itself the final resting place of so many of importance. It includes, since I am a musician by background, training and inclination, Mozart's Gerburtshaus in Salzburg.
In his short piece on the idea of an American Hajj to overseas military cemetaries, Krohn offers the following:
Americans visiting our overseas military cemeteries will find themselves enriched in ways I can only partially explain. At a minimum, the visit will prompt a renewed, and awesome, appreciation of those who sleep in the dust below.This insight is cogent, and clearly indicates that one purpose of pilgrimage can be to remember the sacrifices made on our behalf in a way that connects more directly perhaps because we have traveled, perhaps because we see visible - and physical - evidence. Our willingness to engage in such a pilgrimage is one expression of what we value, how we are willing to be shaped and directed.
Such experiences help put into perspective how our nation benefits from the sacrifice of those willing to put their lives on the line. Without such devotion to dangerous duty, the United States has little to hold itself together. Prosperity is not enough. Our history is based on service, costly service.
People have sometimes noted that one could determine a person's values by at her passing examining her checkbook - where she spent her money as an indication of her values. One can certainly make a similar analysis by an examination of how one's time was spent. And I would argue that the act of pilgrimage provides a similar insight. This is true of the kinds of physical journeys I have described, my own and those more traditional. It is equally applicable to the mental and emotional and spiritual travels within one's own life. In my case the most important pilgrimage I have undertaken has been an exploration of who I am "spiritually." My journey through multiple faith expressions, something which may not yet have reached its final destination in my current spiritual abode in the Religious Society of Friends, is the most important single thread on my journey through life.
And here I realize that life itself is perhaps the most important pilgrimage we undertake. The final destination of our physical life will be our passing, our departing from this life, our death. Ware's words now carry greater cogency, for if that were the only purpose of our life it might seem somewhat pointless, the journey without as much value. But because it is also HOW we travel to that final destination the journey takes on greater importance. The pilgrimage of the journey through life enables us to grow, to take into ourselves the accumulation not only of our own direct experiences, but also experiences and insights of those we encounter, and those to whose present physical abodes we travel, be they cemetaries of the deceased or residences of those still physically in this life.
How we journey is as important as where we are going. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, with whom I overlapped at Haverford, wrote a book entitled Wherever You Go, There You Are. This is a Buddhist expression (Jon moved in this direction many years ago), and deals with issues like being centered. I mention in this diary not because I think readers need to become Buddhists (I am not) nor even practice any of the forms of meditation associated with that tradition. Reflect on the title as it applies to the idea of this diary. And see it also as Ware describes the process of pilgrimage. We are always on a journey, even if we do not recognize it, nor as yet know our destination. And even a physical journey to a place of pligrimage, religious or secular, will the first time we embark upon it take us to a place we do not yet know. Our arrival at that place will make it different merely by our presence, and how we experience it will be shaped by how we travel. If I were to "helicopter in" because I am in a hurry to "get it done" I am unlikely to truly experience as I could: my impatience will mean I come unprepared, and unwilling to accept what the place has to speak to me.
I think this is also true of life in general, of our political and social endeavors, of our human interactions. I will be changed by any journey I undertake, and the direction I choose to travel, as well as the means by which I make that journey, are both indications of what really matters to me.
So that is my reflection on pilgrimage. I will be interested both in your reactions to what I have offered, and in your own reflections, about some of the destinations to which you have journeyed, and why.
And I thank you for having taken the time to travel through these words along with me. I have enjoyed your company.
Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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Saturday, August 11, 2007
Hubert H. Humphrey told us
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we live in a nation whose government fails all three criteria of that moral test. As a teacher I have wrestled with aspects of how we deal with our children. Last night, belatedly, my wife and I saw “Sicko.” I have no choice but to conclude that we also fail our elderly and those in the shadows. Shall we say that the implications of that conclusion are shattering, requiring radical reorientation of my thinking?
I will not recapitulate nor review the movie. I was sitting with my spouse, Leaves on the Current, who had recently spent several days in Prince Edward Island for an extended family reunion. Her Canadian relatives are in large part politically and personally conservative. Yet without dissent they all were strongly supportive of the Canadian national healthcare system. She has also live in England both as a child when her father had a Fulbright to Cambridge and again as an adult when she attended Oxford on a Marshall, and thus has experience with the National Health System which some American politicians and others who profit from our system have denigrated: she knows how wrong those aspersions are. On our honeymoon when one of us developed a medical condition while in French Polynesia, we were able in a small town to go in to a pharmacy and obtain relatively cheaply the non-prescription materials necessary to address the condition. I remember noting the lack of non-medical material sold in the store, which was far smaller than even the average independent drugstore here.
During the student riots that spread across much of Europe in 1968, I had been surprised to read that Frenchmen had the right to free university education: no need for Pell grants because of one’s low income, nor Stafford or other loans to encumber those who attended with massive amounts of debt.
We sometimes have great inequities within our school systems due to race and economic status, and clearly our perverse financing system, based on the value of the real estate within the municipality or county in which the schools are located merely exacerbates and extends the preexisting economic – and hence often social –- disparities with which our nation seems permanently infected.
We are unwilling to move towards a livable wage floor because our business interests do not want to lessen their profits.
We allow dumping of pensions through the bankruptcy process, thus impoverishing some elderly – and that is only if there were a defined benefit pension in the first place.
Our solution to many social problems is to criminalize behavior on an inequitable basis. Thus we have a 100-1 disparity in sentencing between crack and powdered cocaine although we have known for years that they are pharmacologically equivalent, and the person most likely to become our next – and first female – president does not seem inclined to challenge us to move to parity in sentencing, but merely to lower the disparity to 10-1. And the consequence of our criminalization of social problems gives us the highest incarceration rate in the Western world. In many cases we use that as an excuse to further push people into the shadows of life by lifetime sanctions even after those convicted under such a approach have completed their terms: they permanently lose voting rights in many states, and for a single juvenile drug offense one can potentially be permanently barred from Federal benefits such as the ability to obtain the aid so many need in order to better themselves by a post-secondary education.
On ancient maps, when people did not fully understand the world around them, we might encounter a text and illustrations of that lack of understanding: “This way be dragons.” Mariners were supposed to fear going into that “unknown” although sometimes a few did, and others might have maps that showed lands and currents that belied the scary words on the more commonly used maps. For too long Americans have been told – by their government, by their media, by those who profit from the madness and inhumanity of much of our current system – that to go beyond the boundaries they are willing to place on our maps is not to be risked. We were told “this way be dragons.” Those dragons had scary names: socialism, communism, and the like. Our schools are mandated to teach that the capitalist free-market system of economics is the only acceptable way. Except we have never fully had a capitalist free-market system. Our Constitution recognizes protection of patents and copyrights, we require government-issued licenses to enter many businesses and professions, and in some cases we set quotas – on how many cabs a city will license, or how many acres of hops can be planted – that guarantee a profit for those lucky enough to benefit by those quotas while passing on the costs for those profits to the rest of us, who have no choice, who are limited in the competitors from which we can select.
In the movie Moore muses about those things that are “socialized” like police, and fire, and libraries, and public schools. We have not always considered these as public goods to be provided for from the general revenue – there are many historical examples of how such services were provided through private, subscription only (and sometimes for-profit) exemplars. Increasingly in the past few decades we have seen an effort to privatize many of these functions. Even in some cases where things are nominally public, we have the disparity of wealthy communities with well-equipped schools and public libraries, and police and fire with the latest equipment adjacent to those whose tax base has shrunk so that the schools are decrepit, the fire equipment obsolete, the police insufficiently trained, and the libraries closed and shuttered.
I noted at the beginning that I have been shattered. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that my illusions have been shattered. I wrote that I needed a radical reorientation of my thinking. The etymology of the word “radical” are from the Latin, radix, for root. We need to get to the roots. And that takes me back to one famous tale from the Classical period. Alexander the Great encountered a famous challenge, one of which it was said if he solved it he would rule the world. It was the massive Gordian knot, which many had tried to unravel but failed. Alexander took his sword and cleaved it asunder. One might argue that he took a radical approach.
I have no sword, no instrument except my thought, which is far from perfect and limited in the experience from which I can draw. And as I write this it is less than 12 hours since I departed the movie theater – I have not yet finished the cogitation and reflection which is within my power to offer. I will nevertheless offer my as yet far from complete and most assuredly incomplete thinking, in the hopes that other may be able to build upon what I share. And I will do so within the frame of quote from Humphrey with which I began.
THE DAWN OF LIFE – it is simply unacceptable for a nation with the wealth, nutritional knowledge, and medical expertise available within its borders to have an infant mortality rate higher than those of many countries much poorer than ours. Those who survive infancy are often permanently damaged, and thus forever disadvantaged in a society in which we overemphasize competitiveness. For years we have recognized the fundamental inequity of his. That is why we have had programs such as WIC to address the needs of women, infants and children. But like so many other programs, we have rationed the amount of assistance offered on the grounds that full coverage would be exorbitant. And since it is a program for “those people” – the poor, often minorities – we comfort ourselves in the belief that it probably won’t make that much of a difference anyhow. We ignore the long-term cost of not caring for all of our people, a cost which is greatly increased because of our reluctance to expend the necessary funds up front. And then we decrease the effectiveness of the funds we do provide with layers upon layers of bureaucracy and paperwork, all required because of the attitude that people might otherwise get something to which they are not entitled. We try to make a distinction between worthy and unworthy poor, and are prepared to ignore and even punish those we classify as the latter. I know of no great religious tradition that allows for such a distinction in discussing the moral obligations we have to our fellow man, and I see no Constitutional basis for such a distinction in the providing of governmental services. We must as a nation and a society recognize that if we do not fully ensure the necessities for future development of all of our young we belie that founding notion that all men are created equal. We certainly do not fully believe that fetal life is equivalent to those already born if we deny the mothers carrying them complete access to the medical and nutritional care that can ensure healthy development and healthy birth.
THE TWILIGHT OF LIFE – here we encounter issues both of health care and of income security. Social Security and its accompanying program of Medicare are often insufficient to provide the full needs of many of our elderly. They were designed in a context of private pensions through employment, in a time where extended life beyond the employable years was not as extensive as it is today. It is one of the wonders of our health care that we have been able to have so many elderly, an ever increasing proportion of our population. But we have not rethought how we ensure that they are cared for. And again, and as we will see with so many of our service programs, the levels of bureaucracy and the amount of paperwork required because we start with the presumption that people might be unworthy for the services means even the insufficient funds we apportion to these services are not fully expended on services to the elderly, but instead are consumed in the screening, the recording, the reporting. Reduce the bureaucratic aspects and the same funds could provide far greater services. We do not use the power of government to help as effectively as we could. The new prescription “benefit” is an atrocity. Having the government provide for all seniors, and/or using bulk buying to keep down costs could enable complete prescription coverage for all seniors with no donut hole, conceivably for far less than we now spend for incomplete coverage. Of course we would have to address two issues. First, we would not be paying for the excessive profits of PhARMA. And we would not be indirectly repaying the member corporations for the expenses they incurred in lobbying Congress and the public, for the advertising that constantly tells us to ask your doctor,” for the “contributions” to political candidates and parties, and so on.
THE SHADOWS OF LIFE - on this America is immoral, and we cannot justify our inaction, our neglect that is far from benign. We dump poor people out of hospitals and onto the street because they lack medical insurance, because we export jobs, or because they never receive care for treatable medical conditions, physical or mental. They are unemployable because the school available to them are horrid, often in buildings falling apart, thereby telling them even as children that we do not care about them (test scores not withstanding). Their mothers get little or no assistance when they are in utero, or when they are nursing. And our corporations urge those mothers to buy formula rather than rely upon their own milk, which may be insufficient because the mothers receive insufficient nutrition, and whatever problems it may create for them are increased for their unborn children and for those young enough to be nursed. If you have mental or emotional problems and you are poor, if you are lucky you are warehoused – but not treated – in a state hospital. If you are unable to fully function on your own, you are on the streets and the steam grates, unless there is shelter which can take you in. Those who have traveled in Europe with medical systems that we dismiss as socialist, think how often you encounter street people and then compare it to what you might see in major and many smaller American cities. The results of such a comparison will not be flattering to our nation.
There is nothing I have written in this essay that is not fully accessible to every thinking American. And yet we continue with social and economic policies that perpetuate inequality, that waste our human capital, that misuses what limited funds we do apply to fix problems that would be far less were we to take a preventative approach instead of the insufficiently ameliorations we do assay.
We need to recognize that if we are going to be a fully moral society we can longer continue privatize basic social functions. We must assert that every person in this country is entitled as a matter of basic rights to sufficient nutrition to meet basic needs, to the medical care necessary to prevent illness where possible and to care for those illnesses and conditions which cannot be avoided. Each American should have access to free and quality education at least through the equivalent of an Associates diploma from a junior college or its equivalent in technical training and apprenticeships. All American should be guaranteed the income necessary to sustain them when they are too young, too old, too sick, or too disabled to work.
My favorite passage in the New Testament is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But I think most people misunderstand it. It is framed as two sets of four statements. In each set the lawyer asks a question, Jesus being the good Jew he is answers with a question back to the lawyer. The lawyer gives an answer which shows his complete understanding and Jesus affirms that answer. The first set is straightforward – question, question, answer, affirmation. The lawyer then initiates the second set by inquiring “But who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tell the parable, a teaching story, an illustration, not a recounting of an historical event. Jesus then asks the lawyer who was neighbor unto him set upon by the robbers. The lawyer’s answer, which points at the Samaritan, is of course what Jesus is expecting. And his response of “Go thou and do likewise” should be the point understood in the larger context. It is that we already know what is the right thing to do, the course of action we should take. That parable is for us the sword in Alexander’s hand. The problems before us assume Gordian proportions only if we attempt to unravel them in a piecemeal fashion. If we are willing to think radically, we already know the only possible approach we can take.
This is my response to “Sicko.” It is as yet incomplete, not fully formed, and in need of the insights of others. I hope at least a few of you found reading this far too prolix and inchoate set of ramblings derived some value therefrom. I look forward to being challenged by your responses.
And I wish in the broadest sense possible what I always wish:
Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
No Child Left Behind, the title for which was stolen from the motto "Leave No Child Behind" of the Children's Defense Fund, has as a primary purpose to ensure that minority children and special education recipients receive full attention and opportunity to succeed - this is one reason the law requires the disaggregation of test scores by groups including race, Hispanic identity, and special education education classification. Thus when a common statement is issued by most of the important civil rights and disability organizations, it behooves to pay attention to their concerns. Yesterday a letter was sent to the House and Senate Education committees signed by more than 20 of such organizations.
The letter calls for the use of multiple measures both in assessing student learning and in evaluating school performance.
I hope that the Members and Senators will give this letter the deference it deserves. To facilitate that process I am attempting to make its contents as widely known as possible, hence this diary. Please keep reading to learn more.
The letter, whose complete text can be read at the website of the Forum on Educational Accountability, was signed by the following groups, the list of which I offer first to make clear the widespread agreement on this issue:
ACORN(and I note that ASPIRA is the education and leadership development of Puerto Rican and other Latino youth and ACORN is a community organization of low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities).
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Civil Rights Project
Council for Exceptional Children
Japanese American Citizens League
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Learning Disabilities Association of America
National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian,Laotian, and
Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA)
National Coalition of ESEA Title I Parents
National Council on Educating Black Children
National Federation of Filipino American Associations National Indian Education Association
National Indian School Board Association
National Pacific Islander Educator Network (NPIEN)
National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA)
The letter (whose authors have sought my help in publicizing it and given me permission to quote as much as necessary) expresses "strong support for a comprehensive model of accountability" which it seeks through "multiple measures which can focus schools both on developing high quality teaching and learning and on educating all students to graduation." They believe the law can be improved "to better foster genuine educational progress and to hold schools and school systems accountable for a broader array of
important educational outcomes" through the use of "a relatively simple and feasible system of multiple indicators" and they write:
We believe that the accountability provisions must include a system of multiple assessments of learning, which can help schools focus on assessing the full range of standards and skills appropriately, and multiple indicators of school performance, which emphasize the importance of keeping students in school and educating them to graduation.
Ideally, schools should be held accountable for student growth along all parts of the achievement continuum. They should demonstrate continuous progress on an index of indicators comprised of multiple academic assessments, plus measures of student progress through school, such as graduation and grade promotion rates. Together, these components can support a comprehensive and educationally beneficial accountability system.
They note that
A number of studies have found that an exclusive emphasis on (primarily multiple-choice) standardized testand which indicated narrowing of curriculum both in increasing limiting of instruction to the subjects tested, reading and math, at the expense of other subject, and even within those subjects narrowing instruction to the limited format (usually only multiple choice) and content of state tests which often over-emphasize low-level learning. The letter goes on to say
scores has narrowed the curriculum
As reporter Thomas Toch recently stated, "The problem is that these dumbed-down tests encourage teachers to make the same low-level skills the priority in their classrooms, at the expense of the higher standards that the federal law has sought to promote." To succeed in college, employment and life in general, students need critical thinking and problem solving skills that the tests fail to measure, and they need a complete curriculum.
The letter notes that the every-year testing requirement of the law discourages the use of instruments that test higher-order thinking skills - such instruments are more expensive and time consuming, even as they tend to motivate stronger teaching and learning. While I am not personally a fan of international comparisons, since such comparisons have been used to denigrate American public education, it is interesting that the letter notes
These kinds of assessments – which include written essays, oral examinations, research papers, open-ended problems, and other performance assessments – are routinely used in high-achieving European and Asian systems that emphasize higher-order knowledge and skills. Some of our nation’s highest performing districts and states have given up the high-quality assessments they created in the 1990s, because the law currently acts as a disincentive to encourage their continued use.Here it is worth noting that Connecticut, When Betty Sternberg was in charge of the state's schools, wanted to maintain its high quality alternative year testing method. The cost of expanding that testing to every year was prohibitive. The response of the US Department of Education was to use cheaper (and hence lower quality) tests to fulfill the mandate of testing every year.
Let me quote a key part of one paragraph that may help explain why these groups are so concerned
Perhaps the most troubling unintended consequence of NCLB has been that the law creates incentives for schools to boost scores by pushing low-scoring students out of school. The very important goal of graduating more of our students has simply not been implemented, and the accountability provisions actually reward schools with high dropout rates. Push-out incentives and the narrowed curriculum are especially severe for students with disabilities, English language learners, students of color and economically disadvantaged students.
Those of us who were critical of the law when first proposed by the White House noted the push-out phenomenon was well-documented in the system in Texas which was serving as a model for the proposal. The authors mention studies which indicate the perverse effects of the law as written that the raising of "standards"is resulting in fewer students, especially of color, receiving an education.
Here in its entirety is the letter's justification for multiple measures of students and schools:
A central part of a solution to these problems is to employ multiple forms of assessment and multiple indicators, while retaining the powerful tools of publicly available assessment information and the critically important focus on equity. A multiple measures approach can help schools and districts improve student outcomes more effectively because:
1. The use of multiple measures ensures that attention will be given to a comprehensive academic program and a more complete array of important learning outcomes;
2. A multiple measures approach can incorporate assessments that evaluate the full range of standards, including those addressing higher-order thinking and performance skills;
3. Multiple measures provide accountability checks and balances so that emphasizing one measure does not come at the expense of others (e.g. boosting test scores by excluding students from school), but they can give greater emphasis to priority areas; and
4. A multiple measures index can provide schools and districts with incentives to attend to the progress of students at every point on the achievement spectrum, including those who initially score far below or above the test score cut point labeled “proficient.” It can encourage schools to focus on the needs of low-scoring students, students with disabilities, and ELL students, using assessments that measure gains from wherever students begin and helping them achieve growth.
The letter goes on to note use of multiple measures in making economic and business decisions, the possible negative consequences of relying upon single measures, and the professional standards of the measurement community which mandate the use of multiple measures for making major decisions. The current version of NCLB in theory calls for multiple measures of student performance, but the law has failed to promote their use for measuring school progress.
Those Yearlykos attendees who came to the Saturday morning roundtable entitled "Rethinking Educational Accountability" heard Doug Christensen, Commissioner of Education in Nebraska, describe a different way of doing assessment, and Sherman Dorn (who offered this diary with a link to the audio of the session) provide a broader context for assessment and accountability. I mention this because those who did attend or have listened to the audio are quite likely to grasp the basis for the arguments made in the final 4 paragraphs of, which I now quote in their entirety before making a few comments of my own:
Multiple indicators can counter the problems caused by over-reliance on single measures. Multiple forms of assessment include traditional statewide tests as well as other assessments, developed and used locally or statewide, that include a broader range of formats, such as writing samples, research projects, and science investigations, as well as collections of student work over time. These can be scored reliably according to common standards and can inform instruction in order to improve teaching and learning. Such assessments would only be used for accountability purposes when they meet the appropriate technical criteria, reflect state-approved standards, and apply equitably to all students, as is already the case in Connecticut, Nebraska, Oregon, Vermont, and other states successfully using multiple forms of assessment.
To counter the narrowing of the curriculum and exclusion of important subjects that has been extensively documented as a consequence of NCLB, the new law should also allow states to include other subjects, using multiple forms of assessment, in an index of school indicators. To ensure strong attention is given to reading and math, these subjects can be weighted more heavily. Graduation rates and grade promotion rates should be given substantial weight in any accountability system. Other relevant indicators of school progress, such as attendance and college admission rates, could be included.
Because evidence is clear that multiple assessments are beneficial to student learning and accountability decisions, we hope that the committee will take the step of providing significant funds to assist states and districts to implement systems that include multiple forms of evidence about student learning, including state and local performance assessments. Congress should also require an evaluation of state multiple measures programs to enable sharing of knowledge and improvement of state assessment and accountability systems.
A multiple measures approach that incorporates a well-balanced set of indicators would support a shift toward holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement. This is a necessary foundation for genuine accountability.
It is not clear to me that NCLB will be reauthorized this year. Rep. George Miller is determined to get the House version passed, presumably by the end of September. While some of the issues raised in this letter have been discussed within the committee, the Ranking Member (Republican Howard "Buck McKeon)is visibly balking at the idea of multiple measures. And at a recent forum on NCLB sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus a representative of The Education Trust, an organization which claims it is dedicated to closing the "achievement gap" and which carries some weight among centrist members of the House and Senate, strongly opposed the idea of multiple measures. From discussions with staff I have come to believe that when reported to the floor the House version will have a relatively closed rule, making further changes to the committee version exceedingly difficult. That could cause a backlash. While it is not clear when the Senate version will come out of committee, and how different it might be from the House version, all indicators are that it will be at least several weeks later and have some significant differences. And in the Senate, the process of moving a committee measure to acceptance by the full Senate is, of course, far more subject to amending and dilatory tactics.
The danger is that if no reauthorization is sent to the President, we will instead get a continuing resolution, which would maintain funding at the current insufficient levels and allow the clock to continue running on the punitive sanctions. That could have a devastating effect on our schools.
Even with all of the changes suggested in this letter, NCLB will still be a badly flawed piece of legislation. And yet as the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act it is the primary mechanism through which the Federal government provides funds for public schools. IF there is no extension the school that will be most harmed are those with high numbers of minority and poor children. I have noted the impact of a continuing resolution. Thus I see no choice but attempting to make the most significant changes possible in the law.
This letter should carry great weight. It should be widely distributed - to the press, to Members and Senators not on the committees, to anyone with a concern about public education. There is a press release which covers the key issues, which is available at the Forum website in both HTML and PDF formats.
I hope you will consider passing this information on to whomever you think can help with the process. If your Members or Senators are on the Committee in her body, perhaps you can contact them with your support for this initiative: the list of House Committee members can be found here and that for the Senate here.
Please, if you care about public schools, do whatever you can in this effort. I thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.