Friday, November 20, 2015

prayer in school

A case for separation of church and state
Clearly one of the most misunderstood issues is that of the separation of church and state.  We know it is inherent in the constitution, but how it is implemented creates much division that wouldn’t be there if we only understood not only how it protects citizens from those who want to impose their religion on them, but for religion who has concerns about state control.

As a retired teacher, principal and one who has taught education law at the university level, I find this issue quite interesting.  The State may not promote nor hinder religion nor may religion intermingle with the State.  What does that mean?

To go back in history, the first Supreme Court case regarding religion in the public schools was the Gideon Bible case.  The Gideon’s wanted to pass out Bibles in school to those whose parents approved.  The courts said, of course, that it was a violation of separation of church and state.  And the State may not promote the Gideon’s over others.  But who sided for the case and who was against it.  For it, of course, were the Gideon’s.  However, fighting it tooth and nail were the Baptist, the Catholics, the Methodists and many more who didn’t want the Gideon Bible in the public school.

The courts basically said that no religion would be allowed to intermingle in public schools, an arm of the state.  Think for a minute about what would happen if this wasn’t the case.  Which religion would be allowed into public schools?  That decision would be, of course, made by the administration of public school, an arm of the state.  So now we have the state controlling which religion will be allowed in and under what terms.  Do we really want that?  

And what would they do to get their religion into the public schools?  Religion, mingling with the state, was one cause of the problems in Ireland.  The Catholics and Protestants were at war for 500 years over that and other issues.  ISIS is at war over that issue, as is the Taliban and the Nazi’s during the holocaust and we would also eventually be at war over that issue, Christians vs Christians.

But how is religion protected?  Take the case of Kim Davis in Kentucky.  I agree that she, as an individual, has the right to stand by her religious convictions.  However, the State does not.  In her case she not only said that she would not grant same sex marriage, but she would not allow it in her office.  That is where she broke the law.  If only she would have passed it on to another, the problem would have been solved.  

And if she disagreed with the State, she had the opportunity not to work for them.
But some say beware, soon they will make churches perform same sex marriages.  Not a possibility.  Why, because of separation of church and state.  The state has no right to tell churches whom to marry or whom not to marry.  So that will never happen.  The same goes for paying taxes.  Churches do not pay taxes under the protection of the concept of separation of church and state. Do we really want to change that?

And my favorite issue is prayer in public school.  Of course children can pray in public schools.  I did it all the time especially before a big test.  But the state may not control it.  If you want to pray, you must pray in a way that does not impose your religion on the school / State.  Simply, as Jesus says, pray in the closet. 

So if you want to stand by your religious convictions, avoid doing as ISIS does, as the Taliban does as the Nazi’s did or the Christians in Ireland did to force their religion on others.  Do so in the closet when it conflicts with laws that protect your religion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Teach Strong, a positive approach to support educators or the same ole same ole

Yesterday a new initiative was put forward to attempt to bring together many different factions with opposing views about education. It is clear that the civil rights groups want accountability to assure that all children receive a quality education. It is also clear that many educators and parents also want the same thing.  The difference is in the approach that each takes to achieve that end. Of course the solution is to bring those and a wide variety of other groups together to see if it is possible for collaboration to succeed.  

I am not interested in guilt by association, I have friends on many sides of the issue.  Where my interest lies is in the issues.  How can we take a diverse group and clear our heads, stop the finger pointing long enough to focus on the agenda of children.  Many on both sides say that this is an impossible task.  And they may be right.  What's going on at the classroom level is not just unethical, but it is immoral.  But to blame teachers, or principals or the parents or the kids or even the broad umbrella of poverty doesn't solve anything.  We must find solutions.  Let's look at the goals: 

1. Identify and recruit more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce.

It is clear that there needs to be strong diversity of teachers in order to serve all students in a fair and equitable manner.  This is not to say only black or Latino teachers can teach black or Latino kids.  It means that role models are available to all kids on a regular basis allowing them to identify as well as support a quality education for all.  

My experience in a neighborhood school I designed and was put in an all black neighborhood had me receiving permission to have 70% black teachers.  Although there were not enough black teachers to allow this percentage throughout the Milwaukee Public School system, it allowed me to see the value of a diversified staff.  And I believe it was a great asset.  Why shouldn't there be a proper proportion in every school?

2. Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice and a professional knowledge base, with universal high standards for all candidates.

Teacher preparation must be made real.  Currently there is a disconnect between universities and the classroom.  And this is not always a problem with the universities.  When I saw student teachers enter some of the schools I was in, I saw them change dramatically away from what they were taught to an outmoded way of teaching in the way schools are spozed to be.  The knowledge base must include the fundamental ability to teach the whole child, including teaching students who learn in different ways and at different rates.  A special emphasis must be put on the ability to use differentiated instruction in the classroom, using the community as the classroom to make learning real, empowering kids to be leaders, and supporting critical thinking.

As for high standards for teacher candidates?  It depends on what the high standards are.  If they include the previous suggestions, of course.  If it means teachers scoring well on a standardized test or teaching to the test?  NEVER!

3. Raise the bar for licensure so it is a meaningful measure of readiness to teach.

My response is the same for this as the previous issue. 

4. Increase compensation in order to attract and reward teachers as professionals.

This goes without saying.  The teaching profession is approximately 84% female and average salaries are on the$50,000 range.  Engineers are about 85% male with the same education and their salaries are about $20,000 higher.  You want quality teachers, give them an incentive and treat them like the professionals they are.

5. Provide support for new teachers through induction or residency programs. 

This is also absolutely essential.  I have been a mentor for first year teachers and the conversations we had were phenomenal.  They need all the support they can get to be successful with a successful transition from university to the classroom.  But this support must not be traditional teach to the test.  This must be support for innovation, finding the way kids learn best, at their best rate. 

6. Ensure tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.

Tenure, of course must be meaningful.  As it stands now, it does not assure teachers that they cannot be fired for misconduct or any other violation of rules or laws.  That is a myth.  When teachers are not fired for gross misconduct it is usually because of weak administrators who don't have the courage or energy to follow due process.  But putting a high level on tenure, if it is reasonable and not based on teacher or student testing would be valuable only if that teacher received proper support in the process.  And that support could easily come from quality retired teachers.  In fact all teacher assessments could be by retired teachers.  I did that and my colleagues had no patience for poor teaching but understood the profession without the agendas that go along with administrative assessments.  And they are cheaper.    

7. Provide significantly more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed, including through planning, collaboration, and development.

Planning time is essential for innovation.  When you have a wide range of student skills within the classroom, they all must be approached at their level, taking them from where they are.  This requires a great deal of planning and cannot be achieved by following a script.  every child is unique from the most severe cognitive disabled across the spectrum to the gifted, test takers.  That is a wide range of diverse skills.  Planning for each individual is essential as every child is different.  Many will be similar, but all are different.

That also requires a reasonable class size.  Taking 40 kids in a class with one teacher when every child is different is not only unethical, it is immoral.

8. Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement.

Feedback throughout the years of teaching is valuable for growth.  Most high quality educators appreciate feedback on a regular basis.  In order to give proper feedback it must include the mentor or assessor to spend significant time with the teacher in the classroom.  Administrators simply don't have the time.  And to hire more administrators at an extremely high cost in unnecessary.  Again the retired teachers would do a great job and have more time to spend in the classroom, uninterrupted.  University personnel would also be valuable in this effort.

9. Create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.

This is an area that can be explored.  Input from current teachers would be valuable in this effort.

Allow me to add one more.  As I support the Sanders Collins amendment included in the Every Child Achieves Act, I will add that 

10. we must provide a viable alternative to the current testing fiasco.  Whole child assessment, being the only real way of determining the skills of students, must be the primary means of determining student success.  As assessment drives the curriculum, then that curriculum would be whole child, showing what kids can do, not just how they can answer a question. And recognizing that it's not how kids come into the school, it's the gains they make while the are there that is important.

Included is a child's individual learning plan as all kids have different hopes and dreams 

Without systemic change, none of this will work, and the finger pointing will begin again.

Well, that's my take and my hope for the teach strong movement.  Of course this could all fall apart but this is an opportunity for the kind of change that is needed in education.  In order for this to happen there must be the kind of change that not only supports the skills and abilities of teachers but assures parents that their children will receive the highest quality education taking them on their pathway to success.

Do I support Teach Strong now?  Yes.  Because we must have the conversation.  Pointing fingers and shouting is no longer acceptable for professionals.

The conversation begins:  Cynthia on twitter wants teacher autonomy in the classroom. She adds "knowledge of the kids she teaches drives what she teaches".
I believe local assessment will allow that as well as IEP for all  Empower teachers to teach

Will I support Teach Strong six months from now?  I don't know.  If it falls along the wayside of political agendas, I will be the one screaming and yelling.  Until then it would be advantageous for all professional educators to get behind the effort, for now. 


Tuesday, November 3, 2015



Approximately 6 years ago I said on my web page that if public education supporters did not develop a viable alternative to the testing fiasco, public schools would and should perish.  Alas the reality strikes home.  Since that time many public schools have closed, charters and private schools have opened and yet there is little emphasis on changing public schools to meet the real needs of all children.

On one side there are those, led by Diane Ravitch, who have done a remarkable job of pointing out the flaws in the current testing system of education.  They have also supported the “opt out” concept that has an increasing number of parents refusing to allow their children to take the test.  Those parents recognize the drudgery of the test and its lack of value to their children.

On the other side, the reformers continue to present the same rhetoric that public schools are failing and only if you change the name of the school to a charter or choice, all will be well.  Supported by civil rights groups odd bedfellows are formed with tea party activists siding with left leaning groups for a variety of reasons.

Regardless of the reasons, the battle goes on with name calling, finger pointing, the spewing of data that is twisted and turned to prove each side’s point.  It leads to the Ravitch group using test scores to proclaim victory when they denounce those very test scores on a regular basis.  The reformers have then allowed the manipulation of statistics and the exclusion of students to lead the way in their effort to increase test scores.

The battle rages on minus the one element that I stated on my web page 6 years ago.  Where is the viable alternative to the testing fiasco?  And why isn’t either side interested in developing and promoting that alternative?

There will be much speculation about the answer to that but my belief is that they are both so entrenched in warfare that they have lost sight of the fundamental purpose of education.  The first question that must be asked is “Who matters”.  Is it still the children?  If so that’s where the focus must return.  Not who wins or who is guilty by association, or who scored the most points on the pro con battles that have arisen. 

When we recognize who matters, we then must address the fundamental purpose of education.  Is it to be first or best or have the greatest test scores?  Or is it to prepare children for the future.  Those who choose the latter, will clearly be on a path worth following.  And that path will take us in a different direction than the one we now follow.

The reality is there are many educators chomping at the bit to do right by children if only the politicians would get out of the way.  And yes, those politicians include some from the two groups previously mentioned.

There are so many waiting in the wings to take on the challenge.  Dr. Nikki Woodson, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools told her schools not to wait for the test.  Prepare your plans with your assessments.  This can be done everywhere, now!  Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of North Carolina schools wants an active curriculum in all her schools.  Dr. Angela Dye knows the importance of empowering children to seek their future, their way.  Principal Jamaal Bowman is supporting a holistic approach to his middle school, is taking the challenge to modernize and elevate the teaching profession and the list goes on and on. 

Even companies are preparing for a high quality education.  Achieve3000 emphasizes differentiated learning by providing 12 reading levels from the same periodical so students can read at their level and discuss the subject as a group.  Yes, taking every child from where they are, not from where we wish they were.

Educational innovators are everywhere and they must prevail.  And the reality is, they can prevail now.  Yes, I said now, regardless of the rules brought down from on high.  No longer can we wait for permission to serve children in the way they deserve.  What is being done today with the testing fiasco is not only unethical, it is immoral.  If we as educators follow the current leaders, we too are immoral.  The time for action is now.  

The time has come for innovative educators to take back their profession for the children, because we can’t wait for higher ups to give it to them.