Sunday, January 30, 2011

School Choice Helps Meet the Needs of All Students

I have seen a lot of negative press lately about charter schools creating a two tier system of education in this country.   One system is for students at charter schools in the inner city where charter schools like UNO and KIPP use rigid discipline and rote memorization to educate needy students.   Another system is created for wealthy students where schools teach a curriculum rich in critical thinking and classes designed to help students become well rounded individuals.

I don't see this as a problem.  For years, we have known that things like race and gender affect the way that students learn.  Socio-economic status also greatly impacts student learning.  For years, American teachers have complained that the high rate of poverty in this country makes their job more difficult.  Why shouldn't schools separate students based on their family incomes, in much the same way that some students separate based on gender?  Horseback riding lessons do no good to a student growing up in the poverty of an inner city neighborhood, while wealthier students would get bored with a day of memorizing math facts and linking verbs.   While, getting poor students off the street after school so they can't commit crimes makes a lot of sense.  Wealthy students can't stay at school as late with their private tutors, sports teams and clubs.

As we celebrate the end of school choice week, it is time for us to increase educational opportunities for all students regardless of wealth, race, or gender. Class creates a huge achievement gap.   Students from lower income families do not score nearly as high as students of a higher income level on standardized tests even when race and gender are discounted. 

We must begin to seperate students of different classes from each other so that we can work with the learning style of each student population.  Wealthier students do well in things like French, debate, and musical instruments while poorer students need more time learning basic skills like math and reading.  Our schools should reflect this.  As a child brought up in privilege, I would have been bored to tears by the type of school that LastStand advocates for, but that doesn't mean it isn't the ideal educational environment for poor and working class kids. Those kids needs lots of rote memorization.

Students from higher socio-economic classes suffer when deprived of state of the art technology and extra-curricular activities like sports teams, yearbook, and The Young Republicans.  A similiar drop in achievement is not noticeable in the students of poor or working class incomes without these things.
By making rich and poor students go to the same school we are failing to meet the needs of all of our student populations and that isn't right.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fire All the Bottom Teachers

The past year was a sobering one for Americans, as we learned just what overpaid thieves the teachers of this country truly are and learned that the only people who care about our children are the billionaires working hard to reform education like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and the Walton Family. To his credit, President Obama put forward a plan for change that hit the mark, a brilliant stroke that even that reminded us that the key to nurturing a growing child is cutthroat competition.  Race to the Top, the competitive grant program that harnesses stimulus dollars to drive reform, convinced a surprising number of governors and legislators to have The Gates Foundation fill out the extensive paper work.

The grants from Race to the Top encouraged 27 states to broaden their charter school laws, which will make it much easier for wealthy entrepreneurs like Dennis Bakke to expand their operations at a time when the economy has been hard on them.   Many states now allow value added scores, which have been shown to be significantly more accurate than a coin flip, to be used to evaluate teachers.  This week, Alabama finally outlawed teachers unions from deducting union dues from teacher pay checks, banned teachers from running for state legislature, and required teachers to ride in the back of the school bus on field trips.

Now, with a slow-moving economic recovery and no more federal stimulus dollars to spend, rumors are flying that in some cities 15 percent to 20 percent of teachers may face layoffs. We, have to ask ourselves, why stop there?  Of course, states and school districts will look for other ways to cut costs. But when you get right down to it, firing teachers is more fun and there is no way that 1.2 million teachers losing their jobs will adversely effect the economy.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama should lead the charge for student accountability by announcing that teachers whose students were in the bottom quartile on state standardized tests need not report.  The real tragic secret of American education is that fully 25% of public school students are in the bottom quartile on standardized tests and this is inexcusable.  Once we fire those teachers, are schools will improve greatly.  It would also be a great help if he announced that he was advocating making the Bush tax cuts for people making over $250,000 permanent.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

LS4C1 announces exciting new test grid wallpaper

 We hear at LastStand are very excited to announce a partnership with Pearson Testing International to produce this fine one of a kind wallpaper based on the latest educational research into the learning styles of infants.   While many toddlers love to color on walls, their skills at taking bubble sheet style exams are lacking.  This often causes schools to have to evaluate them using alternative means like DIBELS. 

This high quality wallpaper allows children to learn how to completely and precisely fill in test bubbles while taking part in that age old practice of coloring on their walls.  Best of all, the wallpaper is made of a special formula developed in conjunction with the Colorform Corporation that will allow crayon, ink, and paint to wash off with a damp rag.  
If you are a tiger mother who wants to give her child a leg up or just a caring parent who wishes to prepare his/her child for the high stakes testing that awaits her in school, our new test grid wallpaper is for you.   Look for this exciting product coming soon from Last Stand for Children First

Last Stand for Children First pushes for an American education reform

For several years now, the best country in the world on the international PISA test has been Finland.  Their scores dwarf our own and top the list of the best countries in the world for education.  Let's look for a second at the qualities of the Finish education system:

Finnish System
School Day: 4 hour days the first two years to up to as many as 6 hours in high school
School Year: 190 Days
Beginning School Age: 7
Private Schools: Very Few
Unionization: Extensive
Teacher Autonomy: Extensive
PE: 3-4 times per week
Recess: Mandatory for about an hour per day
Homework: About half as much as American students
Standardized Tests: None

It is clear that if we do not do something to catch up with Finland, they will soon be our overlords.  It is not hard to imagine with their geographical location that they could resurrect the old Soviet Union with themselves at the helm and restart the Cold War.

So how do we catch up with the Fins?   By using a uniquely American model.  From doing extensive research, we have come up with what we believe is a quintessential American way to establish our security over the Fins once again.

The American System
School Day: 9 and a half hours (KIPP)
School Year: Average Up to 255 (Duncan and Obama)

Beginning School Age: 3 (LS4C1)
Private Schools: Expand school choice with charters and vouchers (Mitch Daniels)
Unionization: Eliminated (Tennessee)
Teacher Autonomy: None (American Prospect)
PE: Not Necessary (Duncan)
Recess: Not Necessary (Many)
Homework: Increased (Rauch)
Standardized Tests: Extensive (Various)

This American Systems is the perfect balance for today's students.  In our 9 and a half hour day and longer school year devoid of time wasting PE and recess, our students will get over 3 times more direct instruction than students in Finland.   While, this will cost more money, savings can easily be derived from putting more students into classes and by eliminating teachers unions.

There is no reason that a 7 year old student, shouldn't have a longer day and less days off than his working parents because he would not have to deal with adult stress. A man that I rarely agree with Steven Krashen professor emeritus (That's edubabble for semi-retired, but still paid like a contributor) at the University of Southern California, extolled the virtues of a twenty-one hour school day in a recent Washington Post article stating:

"A study published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results in 1991 concluded that a 21-hour school day is optimal, with continuous classes and no breaks, except for two breaks for meals and one lavatory visit.

Among the many advantages would be fewer discipline problems and quieter classrooms because of sleep deprivation, which "lessened the students' rebellious impulses."

I have long been a fan of JIR since their article showing that TFA teachers far surpassed their more experienced colleagues because of a youthful energy.   I have unfortunately been unable to find that particular 20 year old study.   However, a thorough research study on the advantages of mass sleep deprivation on a classroom setting would be a very welcome addition to the conversation on school reform.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Congressman Jack Kimble on Martin Luther King and Education Reform

The details of Martin Luther King's assassination are lost to history. The where, when, and how may never be known, but that's not really important to the legacy of Dr. King. What's sad about his assassination is that by silencing his voice much to young, his assassin deprived future generations of hearing Martin Luther King's voice on the issues that are important to our generations.

It's hard to think back, but in the time of Martin Luther King racism was a serious problem in the Untied States. As a Republican who believed in equality for all, this was something that Dr. King could not abide. King spent his life on a crusade against the horrors of racism. The question remains though, in our world where racism has long been eradicated what would Martin Luther King focus his attentions on now.

We have to wonder how Martin Luther King would have reacted if faced with the public workers who serviced his Birmingham, Alabama home were protecting ineffective employees or calling a strike that stopped vital public services from getting to the people who paid for them. How would conservative Republican Dr. King have reacted to public employees driving up his taxes and the taxes of the people who he fought so hard to free from the shackles of racism?

With his dream of black children and white children being able to play together achieved outside of North Carolina, I believe that Dr. King would have thrown himself into the civil rights movement of our day--specifically education reform and curtailing the power of public employee unions.

Dr. King would have been thrilled to see a program like Teach For America, that allows young black children to be taught by the most promising Ivy League educated graduate white kids who spend two years bringing education to urban districts before going on to better paying jobs.

Dr. King would have been a huge supporter of charter schools that may increase segregation in schools, but in doing so allow black children to get extra memorization, math, and reading by not subjecting them to arts programs, social studies, and other time wasting subjects so prevalent in affluent white schools.

Dr. King would have stood with Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee as they called for putting a quality teacher and 40-50 students in every public school in America. He would have been thrilled to have the support of public minded billionaires and he would have worked to cut their taxes so that they could donate even more money to education reform.

As Martin Luther King himself said, "When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Isn't it the time to be free from public employee unions now once and for all?

[Congressman Kimble is a Republican serving California's 54th District in the United States House of Representatives.  He is also a member of the Board of Directors for Last Stand for Children First and an advocate for education reform.]

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bormann Academy offers glimpse of education's future

It can be loud.   The noise level and the lack of desks are the first two things you notice when you walk into Patricia Murphy's seventh grade classroom at Bormann Academy where the desks have been removed to fit 108 students into classroom originally built with a capacity of 36.

As Ms. Murphy began her lesson on geometric patterns in math, 2 girls were sketching shapes on their notebook, while another boy was using a needle and several blue pens to give another student a geometric tattoo of a skull on his left arm.
“We don’t know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math,” Robby Burnett, 13, said.

Across the room Luis Cabrera, Ms. Murphy's teacher aide and custodian was lecturing some of the slower students on the need to improve their scores on the district's standardized tests while Ms. Murphy continued teaching her lesson at the chalkboard.

Ms. Murphy, a 23 year old Amherst graduate with a passion for public policy, describes life in the unconventional classroom as chaotic, but rewarding, "I was the students' third teacher when I arrived in November and it took me awhile to get their trust, even after they realized Mr. Boddicker wasn't there anymore."

Bormann Academy has a strict zero tolerance policy for teachers whose students fail to make acceptable progress on district tests.   "There is no tenure.  If you're not doing a good job preparing these students, I will call you into my room at lunch time and have security escort you out of the building," said principal Ellen Kingrey a 25 year old Yale graduate with a passion for public policy.
Bormann Students make their way to the cafeteria for lunch.

Bormann Academy, which is located in Oakdale, CA has a student body of 850 students and 9 full-time teachers plus 18 teacher's aides who double as custodians, lunch room staff, and office secretaries.   As a charter school, Boorman Academy is freed up from many of the regulations that stifle reform in public schools and as such is able to operate at an incredible profit for its investors.

Lessons can be a series of complex choreographies and it is extremely important that a teacher be very aware of their classroom environment.  When we were observing, one boy was pinned against a desk by a line of students getting calculators and turned blue before he was finally rescued.

"It does take some getting used to," said Ms. Murphy, "In the beginning there would be an argument or a shanking in the back of the room and before I could get back there, we'd have a major problem.  However, I've learned to coordinate with Luis and we always have somebody nearby when trouble breaks out.  That makes all the difference."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Last Stand for Children First endorses Rahm Emanuel for Chicago Mayor

As an organization with a national outreach, it is unusual for LastStand to get involved in local politics.  However, a true hero of education reform has arrived in Chicago and he's promising to take Chicago's miracle Renaissance 2010 and make it even Renaissancier in the years to come.

Emanuel returns to Chicago from serving his country in Washington DC, where he deserves much of the credit for taking a vaguely optimistic and undoubtedly historic figure in President Obama and taking him from his election day victory over John McCain to his current popularity.

Rahm has just the attitude to stand up to teacher's unions and he proved it while working for the Obama administration when he let it be clear in no uncertain turns that he wished to "F*** the UAW."   This is a man who will not be intimidated by union thuggery.

Chicago faces some very difficult financial times ahead in part because of Mayor Daley's disastrous deal leasing city parking meters to a private company at a loss of over a billion dollars, but Rahm has shown he's not afraid to renegotiate a bad deal, saying just yesterday that he might want to cut pensions to current firemen, teachers, police and other city workers.  Now, that's a shrewd negotiator.  I must admit that this kind of talk impressed many of our members.

Rahm's plans for education reform are equally bold.   As you know, LastStand has been at the forefront of the movement for bigger class size as a way to reduce the number of teachers and thus the number of bad teachers.  Rahm has supported taking away the right of teachers to negotiate for class size, which is the first step towards our goal of 50-55 children in your average third grade classroom.

Teacher strikes also continue to big a major problem for the Chicago Public Schools, since the last one terrorized the Reagan administration in 1987.  Rahm has supported a group of billionaire funded education reformers from Oregon in going after the right of teachers to strike and anybody who supports billionaires, we believe in supporting in kind.

Noticing that juvenile crime seems to spike in the hours between 3PM and 6PM when children are let out of school, Rahm has called for making the school day at least 45 minutes longer so that it will be darker when the children get out in winter time and automatic street lights will be on to illuminate their way home to safety and hot cocoa.

Rahm Emanuel has demonstrated his great love of Chicago by coming back to serve it.  His large campaign war chest makes him an ideal choice to run for mayor.  Unfortunately, while my wealth allows me to get involved in Chicago's education system, it doesn't allow me to vote in its elections.  Never the less, Last Stand For Children First heartily endorses Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago

Myron Miner

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ryan Wilson on poverty and other excuses

G'day!  When you've been in the education reform game for awhile you start noticing trends.  You see all these figjam teachers who know why the little ankle biters aren't learning right and you know what--it's never their fault.

I don't know how often I've been touring a school and asked a teacher about their dismal test scores and they immediately come the raw prawn with me telling me that their students are poor, or still learning English as a second language, or have learning disabilities that leave them unable to meet or exceed on standardized tests at their grade level.  They immediately expect me to just rack off and defer to their low opinion of their own students.

I like to think all the students can learn if properly motivated and if not most can be counseled to try another school where they might fit in better.  In fact, according to No Child Left Behind in 2014 all the little ankle biters are going to be on level in reading and math, but that's not going to happen if we keep avoiding responsibility.   The world is changing folks and there is very little hope of any children having a middle class lifestyle. If your child is hoping for a factory job, he's going to be left without a brass razoo.  Now, the Walton family, Bill Gates, and other billionaires can't exactly do much to change that, but we can offer kids a path to successful futures through education reform.

I remember a certain North Carolina State basketball team that thought they too faced insurmountable odds against Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma and Hakeem Olajuwan back in the 1983 NCAA basketball championships.  Fortunately, a tough as nails coach named Jim Valvano wouldn't accept excuses and he led NC State to history and to the title!  Crikey!

How can we accept less from our teachers?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Myron Miner on how to stretch your school dollar

Let's face it, the economy is not doing particularly well.   Public worker unions have driven the economy off a steep cliff and school districts find themselves struggling to find the money to make meaningful reform and to adequately compensate the reformers who offer so much to their students.  There is no reason for panic, however, like families across this great country, it's simply time to tighten your belt.

Any education reformer will tell you that the best teachers are young and fresh out of school.  They may not have a lot of experience or training, but they make up for it with youthful enthusiasm.  Who has more enthusiasm then your own 8th graders?  Who is younger and fresher?

By having your 8th grade students teach the younger grades, the small children are given a teacher that they can relate to better because they are closer in age.  Even a dull-witted 8th grader should be capable of doing 2nd or 3rd grade work and best of all, they'll do it for a grade instead of a paycheck.

Become very familiar with the fire code in your district.   Many states will tolerate far more overcrowding than exists in the average classroom.  If the fire department will allow you to put 100 students in a room, you can fire 2/3 of your staff.  Once more, by keeping only the top third of your teachers, you can guarantee that every student in your school gets a quality teacher.

Finally, teachers and office staff need to call students' homes frequently.   Maybe Johnny wasn't in school today or Sally's grade in math has been dropping.   Why not use this as a money maker by hiring out to a telemarketing company.   "Mrs. Anderson I want to talk to you about Sally's math grade and your aluminum siding."

I've just scratched the surface of budget tightening.   Even something as simple as a pay toilet in the teacher lounge can be a real money maker.   For more suggestions check out the Fordham Institute.