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Monday, November 22, 2010

An Interview With Laurie H. Rogers, author of "Betrayed"

by Michael F. Shaughnessy, Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico

(Note: This interview was originally published Nov. 18, 2010 on EducationNews.org, at http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/book_reviews/103206.html.
In this interview, Laurie H. Rogers, author of the "Betrayed" blog, discusses her book. Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011). The book is now available on Amazon.com.

**********************************************
Michael Shaughnessy: Who is being “Betrayed” by the public school system in America?
Laurie Rogers: The education establishment is betraying the following groups:
  • The children, who aren’t getting the education they need;
  • Parents, who struggle to manage bored and frustrated children, who must pay for several college remedial classes, and who sometimes wind up with students who have given up and dropped out;
  • Teachers, who are micromanaged and disrespected in myriad ways by the bureaucracy and then blamed for the results;
  • Taxpayers, who pay hundreds of billions of dollars each year for a largely failing K-12 education system;
  • Businesses, which must recruit from other countries;
  • Government agencies and military organizations that struggle to fill critical jobs with qualified Americans;
  • The country, which teeters on the brink of economic and social disaster, crippled by a populace that is not acquiring sufficient skills or knowledge to properly run it or even to fully understand the challenges that face it.
The only people not being betrayed are those who feed off of our failing education system. Unfortunately, that group gets larger every year.

Michael Shaughnessy: Why did you write this book?

Laurie Rogers: I wrote this book so I could be heard over the clamor of the well-heeled, self-interested groups that currently run public education. My goal is to give parents, teachers and policy makers a clear view of why the American public education system is failing the children. Tons of education data, statistics and reports float around every year, and yet, in all of that, the children’s reality is hard to find. This book faces down that information and shows the children’s stark reality and the bleak future they face.

But there is hope. Schools can be fixed. Alternatives are out there. The children can be saved. I wrote this book to give people a template for how to force the public accountability and transparency that is critical to a strong and healthy system, and to give them the knowledge they need to make informed choices on the students’ behalf. If the people are engaged and work together, they can save the students. It can be done.

Michael Shaughnessy: Are the schools simply being asked to do too much, with too few resources, and with too little training?

Laurie Rogers: In my view, no, to all of the above. Administrators say they’re being asked to do too much, that they don’t have enough money, that teachers need more training, and that parents are uninvolved. But the real mission of public school – academics – is not too much to do. Parents and community members want schools to prepare our students academically for postsecondary life. This mission is neither difficult nor expensive. Unfortunately, what we ask for isn’t being done.

Instead of paying for student academic learning, taxpayer money pays for social issues, office buildings, travel, luxurious administrator salaries, layers of assistants, conferences, studies, and cool technology. Instead of focusing on academics, administrators distract students for assemblies, parties, days off, excessive testing, and other nonacademic events. Instead of allowing teachers to teach, administrators constantly pull them out of class for “professional development” in failed teaching methodology, coaching, collaboration, conferences and committees. Administrators refuse to get out of the way, then wring their hands, say it isn’t their fault, and claim to need more money.

Administrators have built a system that serves the administrators. If everything is someone else’s fault, they don’t have to take responsibility for it. But even with K-12 expenditures in 2009 of $658 billion, administrators say there isn’t enough money to do the job. If schools focused on their mission – academics – much in public education would improve. If schools are in a box, it’s a box they built.

Michael Shaughnessy: Children with special needs. Are they being ignored, betrayed, minimally serviced and assisted, or all of the above?

Laurie Rogers: All of the above. Comparatively little money in this nation goes to support gifted education, which is a special need. However, despite the biblical flood of money that goes to various disadvantaged groups and to special-education groups, the system fails them, too. Look at the gaps in achievement between white and Asian groups and all other groups. Many of these children get one shot at a good education. If they aren’t being taught what they need to know, then all of the money in the world won’t help. We’re nearly three-quarters of the way toward spending a trillion dollars each year on K-12 education, and it mostly fails. A focus away from rigorous academics helps no one. A failing system fails everyone.

Michael Shaughnessy: How can a regular teacher, even well trained in differentiation, hope to comprehensively teach a class of 30 or 40 students?
Laurie Rogers: A teacher can teach 30 to 40 students if they begin at about the same place. It happens every day around the world. Every teacher “differentiates” to some degree every day. But “differentiated instruction,” as a school policy and as a way of dealing with 30 to 40 wildly diverse learners, is just jargon. It captures the rose-colored imagination of those who sit comfortably in an office, but it isn’t workable. Can teachers get through the day trying to manage 30 to 40 diverse learners? Sure. Will students learn something? Sure. Will they learn what they need to learn so they can pass standardized tests, meet the standards, be well prepared for the next level, and eventually graduate with the skills they need for postsecondary life? It’s doubtful. Look around, at any real measure of student achievement. It doesn’t work.

Given “inclusion,” large classes, “social promotion,” weak curricular materials, constant distraction from academics, a teacher who is constantly pulled away from class, and an obsession with time-consuming group work and “discovery” – you can see that teachers face an impossible job. And yet, the national trend is toward blaming teachers. It’s ridiculous, but here we are. This is what teachers face.

Michael Shaughnessy: What’s going on in Spokane, WA, and are you going to write another book?
Laurie Rogers: Spokane Public Schools is a poster child for everything that’s wrong in public education. Here, it’s devastating for children and teachers.

After four years of education advocacy, I perceive that the problem is central-office decision-makers, who appear to be married to failing curricular materials, to failing teaching methodology, and to their constant parade of professional development programs. Some have stated publicly to the school board that they don’t know how to fix the math problem and don’t know which of their “intervention” programs are working. They don’t always follow the will or the intent of the school board, there are few opportunities to publicly ask questions of them, and they constantly blame teachers, parents and students. Far from being fired, this last summer, most of them got an increase in pay.

Will I write another book? Let’s see how the first one does. I’m presenting the people with an uncomfortable message. Placing our trust in administrators [and board directors] has given us this incompetent system that fails our children every day, and that delivers our high-school graduates (and high-school dropouts) into a life for which most of them are unprepared. I know there will be huge resistance to my message from those who feed happily off of this system. But I also know the situation can’t continue indefinitely. When students can’t follow their dreams, can’t get into college, aren’t prepared for any future they envisioned, where will they go? How will the system continue to absorb them? Who will run this country a generation from now? The people must decide what sort of public-education system they want, and the education system will determine what kind of country we have.

Michael Shaughnessy: Did Washington get the message?
Laurie Rogers: It depends on who you are and what sort of message you wanted them to get. I’m frustrated with the country’s overall leadership – at local, state and federal levels. There isn’t much respect for the people, and I see a lot of arrogance and self-serving behavior. But who is to blame for this? Some taxpayers inexplicably voted for candidates who made egregious errors in judgment and behavior. The American people must continue to engage in all decision-making, but in particular to retain an ethical and honorable voting system. It’s our last resort, and once that’s gone, it’s gone forever.

I do hope the people will rise up to resist the federalization of public education. I’ve seen nothing at local, state or federal levels that leads me to believe the federal plan will be focused on the needs of the children instead of on the wants of the well-heeled so-called “stakeholders” who stand to gain from “transforming” the system. Additionally, for all intents and purposes, this federalization will remove local voices from the process.

Michael Shaughnessy: Tell us about your Web site. What would one find there?

Laurie Rogers: I hope people find truth on that blog – passion, dedication to the children, fairness, and a questioning, journalistic mind. I’ve written all of my life, but the children motivate me. I’ve seen them cry over their schoolwork, and I’ve seen them standing in the school hallway, perplexed at why things aren’t working for them. It hurts my heart. As a child advocate, I can’t help but reach out.

My website focuses on mathematics because math is a gatekeeper. Students need it for college or the trades, for entry into the workforce, the military, or business ownership. People who don’t have basic math skills are limited in so many ways. Math also is the “canary in the coal mine.” It sings loudly about what’s gone awry in public education.

Math is simple to teach to children, and they like math, right up until their enjoyment is beaten right out of them by the idiot way so many public schools deliver it. Many school districts depend on “reform” math curricula, which de-emphasize (or remove) standard algorithms, practice, memorization, and procedural skill. Additionally, children are supposed to “construct” their own meaning and work in groups to teach each other. These curricula and methods appeal to people who are blind to the students’ daily reality.

Michael Shaughnessy: What have I neglected to ask?
Laurie Rogers: Here's a question: What does a good education system require?

My book discusses the Square of Effective Learning – a square of four factors that bear directly on learning. The Square includes effective teachers, rigorous and efficient curriculum, focused learning environment, and prepared student. With a dedicated and deliberate focus on just those four critical “needs,” and a step away from the adult “wants” that cost taxpayers so much money, we could turn things around within a year.

A second question is: What does the future hold for public education?
That depends on the people. If parents and teachers can resist the negative messages that divide them, and instead work together to take back the classroom, many good things can happen. The country is desperate, the children are desperate, the taxpayer is desperate, and businesses are desperate. People must rise up and insist on the education system they want. It’s a pretty good thing to do for the children and the country.

A third question is: Which book should someone write?
I would like to see a book that accounts for the $658 billion spent from all sources on K-12 education last year, and for the $664 billion projected for this year. Does someone have it in a sock drawer? Did it fall out of the truck? Where did it go?

I also would like to see an investigative report on the funding, organization and creation of the Race to the Top grant initiative, the Common Core State Standards, and the consortiums that are building tests for the CCSS. That would be a very interesting book. Maybe I’ll write it.


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. For proper attribution, please contact Laurie H. Rogers, author of "Betrayed." wlroge@comcast.net

Sunday, November 14, 2010

SPS brushes off math concerns in meeting devoted to math concerns

By Laurie H. Rogers



In October, Spokane Superintendent Nancy Stowell asked parents in the Citizens Advisory Council what we want to discuss in future meetings. Resoundingly, we said: mathematics. Thus, the agenda of the Nov. 8 CAC meeting was to discuss mathematics. But the Nov. 8 meeting was tightly controlled. There was little opportunity for parent discussion of mathematics.

Citizens Advisory Council Meeting, Nov. 8, 2010, 6:45 p.m.
District administrators devoted the first part of the Nov. 8 meeting to issues other than mathematics.
  • Board member Dr. Jeff Bierman discussed the district’s bond sale and the district's wonderful bond rating. (It’s lovely how wonderful the district’s bond rating is, even when the district’s academic programs are so poor.)
  • Tim Henkel, of the United Way, asked parents to partner with the United Way. He handed out a sign-up sheet. (I signed his sheet. Why not? Perhaps he can get the district to change the K-8 math materials.)
  • Dr. Stowell discussed a “longitudinal study” the district will conduct to determine specific characteristics and “markers” of children who “get off track” in school.
Perhaps the student "characteristics" and "markers" include having to suffer with constant group work, discovery and a bass-ackward way of learning math and grammar. Perhaps they include difficulty with terrible math programs and weak state math tests. A 2006 study from Johns Hopkins researchers Robert Balfanz and Ruth Curran Neild found an increasing likelihood of students to drop out when they begin failing math and English classes. (Hmm. Perhaps it is Spokane administrators who are “off track.”)
At about 20 minutes in, the district finally began talking about mathematics. Presenting were Tammy Campbell, Rick Biggerstaff, Kim Dennis, Laura Ketcham-Duchow, and Michelle McKenzie. Dr. Campbell said a few times that the district would “continue to raise achievement in mathematics.”
(Uh… “Continue to raise achievement”?? What fuzzy math is this? On which planet is she living? Spokane has steadily sinking pass rates on math tests and extremely high remedial rates in math at area community colleges.)

The district presentation included these topics: Collaboration in Buildings, Principals’ Conferences; Walk-Throughs; Data-Driven Dialogue; Standards-Based Grading and Reporting; Professional Development; Coaching; and Curriculum.

According to Dr. Campbell, Biggerstaff, Dennis, Ketcham-Duchow and McKenzie all “work with teachers to build their capacity.” They are “professional development leaders,” as well as writers of curriculum.
 
Oh, yeah. I’m sure this is how teachers see the administrators exactly. The Nov. 8 presentation did nothing to alleviate my perception that administrators think the math problem is the fault of teachers, parents and students. Indeed, based on this district presentation, it seems likely that teachers will continue to be obstructed, disrupted, and pulled out of class to be professionally developed, coached, monitored, and stuck in “lab classrooms” where they will waste valuable class time watching other teachers. It seems administrators will continue to “collaborate” about them, monitor them, “walk-through” their classrooms to “brief” them and “debrief” them, and then continue to pound them to death with “professional development” in failed instructional dogma.
My perception is that, when all of this disruption and obstruction continues to NOT work for the students, teachers will continue to be criticized, patronized, and disciplined. (Later, administrators can tell teachers that parents are the problem. At no time will anyone hear that administrators continue to be the problem.)
I raised my hand to ask if there is a limit on how many hours Spokane teachers can be absent from the classroom for district-initiated reasons, but administrators moved on without calling on me.

An administrator discussed the new emphasis on data-driven dialogue (which is where, mind you, the emphasis should always have been).
OMG. If you thought the WASL wasted too much class time on data that went nowhere and accomplished nothing, just wait until you see what students face now: End-of-unit assessments, the MSP, the HSPE, and the MAP in fall, winter, and spring. Not only will teachers be continually pulled out of class, students also will be “missing in action” each time the district wants more fake data.
Of course, recent student data already tell administrators a devastating story of failed reform curricula, and of confusing and counterproductive methodology forced daily on the teachers. But listening to administrators talk Nov. 8, it seems these data tell them students are doing well. Better than students across the state (which appears to be all they care about). And everyone loves the administrators. And they love themselves. And they dress well, too, because $100,000/year can buy some really nice shoes.
I raised my hand to offer current student data and to ask what it shows them, but administrators moved on without calling on me. I did manage to ask how all of their data will translate into change for the students. Dr. Campbell mentioned “grouping” and “interventions.”
Hmm. What I’ve been hearing from parents is that students are being “grouped” into “high” and “low” math classes, which does not seem helpful to students' self-esteem. I wonder how many students would be in a “low” class if all of their teachers had been allowed to teach them basic arithmetic skills. What kind of intervention can it be when administrators don’t appear to value basic arithmetic skills, and they actively interfere with teachers who want to teach them?
Over the years, I’ve asked various administrators, principals and board directors to help me – or at least allow me – or at least allow someone – to start a free district tutoring program in arithmetic. To no avail.

An administrator presented graphs showing how Spokane students achieve more than students across the state. Also discussed were “strand data,” and the SAT, NAEP, and TIMSS, all of which supposedly point to student success in Spokane.
In my opinion, this piece of the presentation was so selective, manipulative, deceptive and shameless, it’s hard to believe the administrator didn’t just melt into a pool of muck on the floor.

When you look at actual pass rates on the WASL, MSP, and HSPE, you can’t help but weep for the children. Look at the pass rates for 2010: (“Pass rates on 2010 math tests shocking”).
The presentation handout doesn’t cite sources for this “strand data.” It just lists outlandish claims of student performance on unnamed "strands." As for the SAT, NAEP, and TIMSS – what do they say about Spokane? Where is specific data on our students? Were the tested students homeschooled? Were they tutored? Did any actually attend Spokane schools?
I raised my hand to ask about specific data on Spokane’s 10th-graders and middle-schoolers, but administrators moved on without calling on me.

During the standards-based grading piece of the presentation, district administrators discussed the new “standards-based grading,” which has caused smart, capable students in Spokane to burst into tears.
Repeat after me: Grading does not improve math achievement. Done well, grading can tell us how the district is performing. But in Spokane, grading is done with standards-based grading, and this kind of grading is particularly good at hiding a weak math program. In Spokane, nearly everyone gets an A or a B. Few excel. Few fall behind. Everyone is pretty much the same, regardless of what they know. Rest assured that all college admissions people in Washington know this.
During the “curriculum” piece of the district presentation, Rick Biggerstaff did not talk about curricular materials. Instead, he talked about how the district planned to build a standards document to hand out to parents.

In Spokane Public Schools, “curriculum” has come to mean “standards.” (I think “standards” has come to mean “cow patty,” and “cow patty” now means “all parent and teacher input,” especially the input they find disagreeable.)
At the state level in 2008, incredibly well-qualified people collectively spent $1.6 million of taxpayer money to build Grade A math standards for Washington State. (Of course, those state standards include algorithms and arithmetic, which in Spokane Public Schools are a definite no-no.)
Regardless of what you think of when you think of “curriculum” – textbooks, standards, or criterion objectives – just know that at no time on Nov. 8 did administrators talk about Spokane’s execrable K-8 curricular materials. Not until I asked, that is.
I raised my hand to mention that their discussion of “curriculum” had become a discussion of standards, that good state math standards were already built, and why would the district waste taxpayer money writing standards for parents (which – pardon me for being a cynic – will almost certainly include heavy elements of reform dogma)? Administrators moved on without calling on me. This snubbing was so obvious, other parents began to laugh.
After our “small group discussion,” which arrived at the hour mark and lasted just a few minutes, I was allowed to ask if Spokane’s K-8 curricular materials would be replaced. Dr. Campbell said if the data warranted looking at the materials, they would.
If? IF?? Spokane has a 38.9% pass rate on the 10th grade math tests, pass rates in some middle schools that hover around 30-40%, and high remedial rates in math in college. The student data warrants lighting a match, setting our reform math curricula on fire, and then, when they are nothing but ash and dirt, locking them in a box and throwing them into the deepest, darkest part of the ocean, tied down with a large rock so they can never, ever resurface.
But administrators have beat Spokane teachers half to death with discovery and reform, and it seems they are not about to change now.
The Biggerstaff/Dennis/Ketcham-Duchow/McKenzie/Campbell/Stowell team talked confidently about what they’re doing to continue to improve math education in Spokane.

It was shocking. Shameless. It warrants firing. But who will fire them? The superintendent listened without comment. The school board directors voted this summer for administrator raises. Clearly, it’s up to you and me.
  • Teacher unions and staff unions can vote no-confidence in the superintendent, the school board, and the district. They can threaten to give up. When that doesn't have an effect, they can walk out.
  • Taxpayers can say no to levies and bonds.
  • Parents can continue to pull their children out of math classes, out of schools, and out of the district altogether.
I believe Spokane's current district decision-makers will never listen to teachers, parents or students. Yet, district residents must keep giving them our tax dollars, whether we like it or not. This sorry situation warrants legislative changes.


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (November 2010). "SPS brushes off math concerns in meeting devoted to math concerns." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Common Sense Reform, Evidence, and Faith Based Education

By J.R. Wilson

(Originally published October 19, 2010, on EducationNews.com: http://www.educationnews.org/blogs/101621.html
Republished on the Betrayed blog with permission from author J.R. Wilson.)

The reform agenda promoted and supported by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan includes STEM schools, longer school days, longer school years, national standards, national assessments, charter schools, merit pay and evaluation of teachers based on student test scores, and school restructuring. What evidence supporting these measures have they provided? What are they basing their decisions on? A search did not uncover any evidence or reference to empirical research findings but found some interesting statements supporting their reform measures.

The commitment the President made to “restoring integrity to science policy, and making decisions on the basis of evidence, rather than ideology” could and should be extended to education since part of his science policy includes improving achievement in math and science. Ever wonder what evidence the President and his Secretary of Education provide for decisions made regarding major reform measures?

Research has been conducted on some of the reform measures. If one really scrutinizes the findings, the evidence does not always support the reform practice. Often, anecdotal evidence and ideological reports are accepted in lieu of empirical evidence. Let’s see what kind of supporting evidence and rationale are being used to promote the slate of currently vogue reform measures.

The President has indicated the Race to the Top requirements are “based on the very best evidence about what works”. The evidence seems to lie in the consensus Arne Duncan and educational experts arrived at about what will produce results. Consensus apparently is now a form of evidence-based policymaking where evidence is optional. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s of no consequence whether or not empirical evidence supports a reform as long as we all agree that it ought to work. That’s a good enough reason to subject students across the country to the reform impact. States are being told, asked, bribed, and possibly coerced with NCLB, RTTT, and A Blueprint for Reform to adopt many of the Administration’s reform measures, “few of which are truly ‘evidence-based’.”

When Arne Duncan was asked what evidence supports the common sense reforms, as he refers to them, he answered, "I think there’s a lot of scientific evidence that the status quo doesn’t work." This unspecified scientific evidence is justification for drastic unproven reform measures. Basically, we know what is happening now isn’t working so let’s institute this or that reform, never mind that no evidence supports the reform and in some cases evidence shows the promoted reform is not effective. The current Administration has become the status quo.

Certainly, we can easily reach consensus that the status quo doesn’t work, therefore, common sense justifies the use of any reform measure we believe will improve schools. Are our nation’s leaders setting a decision making example for educational leaders and administrators at the local and state level with their decision strategies or are they mirroring strategies already in use across the country? Have our leaders lost their way? Have we been led astray? Are our decision makers exercising the highly coveted critical thinking and deep understanding we so want to develop in our students? Is the education problem in this country really more of a political problem?

Consider the examples of a few reform measures. A failing school will certainly fail no more if it is closed as one of the restructuring options. What about the students? Does losing their community neighborhood school ensure success in a new setting? Where is the empirical research showing students from a closed failed school make greater academic gains than students from a failed school with similar demographics that remains open? While common sense may say it is reasonable to use student test scores to determine teacher effectiveness, research findings indicate this practice is unstable and unreliable. Where’s the research that shows using merit pay as an incentive results in improved student achievement scores?

Current political practices are such that available evidence is often ignored, misused, misinterpreted, or skewed to favor the prevailing favored faith based (and often vendor-based) common sense reform measures. Before buying into the boilerplate blather about a reform’s expected efficacy, you are encouraged to do your own review of the research. Dig deeper for evidence to see if more than common sense and scientific evidence about the status quo supports the latest reform fads.

Where will the implementation of the reform measures supported by common sense, consensus, and faith-based education lead us? Robert Pondiscio says it well in Nineteen Points and One Very Bad Idea: “Fast-forward. It is 2016. After a years of holding teachers accountable for short-term gains, and creating incentives that actively work against the buildup of knowledge, with disappointing results, we wake up and realize we are going about this the wrong way. A few look back and say we should have listened to our Cassandras. But other energetic, well-meaning reformers see it another way. Instead of realizing we have fatally neglected a robust curriculum, that we are reaping what we have sown, they will conclude that as a nation we simply have no good 8th grade reading teachers. Aggressive, immediate action is needed.”

No doubt, we will once again have the opportunity to ignore and/or misinterpret the evidence, identify new reform measures to inflict on the education system, and start a new cycle once teachers have been blamed and thoroughly punished.


(J.R. Wilson is a parent and an education advocate with 25+ years experience in public education as an elementary teacher, curriculum consultant, staff development coordinator, and principal.)


Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at wlroge@comcast.net. Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.