Saturday, February 11, 2006

Open letter to Ron Gidwitz Regarding his "Education Plan"

Kevin Killion of the www.Illinoisloop.org sent the below message to Ron Gidwitz regarding his education plan. Illinoisloop.org is a must read website for all true education reformists.

To: Ron Gidwitz


Dear Ron,

It seems that the press has all but ignored the announcement of your "P16" plan for education in Illinois. I'm sorry to say it, but that's not a surprise. The plan was woefully lacking in anything that would actually enthuse anyone. Where was the EXCITEMENT? The INNOVATION? Where were any common-sense REFORMS?


Here are the points in your press release, which I've copied in their entirety:


- Creation of more pre-school opportunities, with a special emphasis on encouraging enrollment of children from low income families;

Yawn. Maybe it would be simpler just to insist on effective,
research-based and teacher-directed reading instruction in
K-3?


- Mandatory kindergarten for all Illinois children by the age of 6. For parents who choose to homeschool, the state will provide educational resources.

Huh?

WHEN the state schools start demonstrating competence at
what they have now, THEN let's talk about expanding their
dominions.

Why not simply offer a full-cost voucher for Kindergarten,
good at ANY school?


- Smaller class sizes during the early years to allow more individual attention

Aw, Ron, c'mon now! YOU KNOW that smaller class sizes haven't
been shown to improve objective scores! We DO know that
small class sizes are popular with the Big Ed unions because
they cut workloads. Unfortunately, small class sizes,
besides being hugely expensive (more teachers and more classrooms),
also make it MUCH easier for weak teachers to fill class time with
pointless projects and activities.


- Intensive reading programs focused on first, second and third graders to assure that students are not promoted to fourth grade without achieving reading proficiency;

Uh, and that means what exactly? What exactly are you pledging
to do? Boring, boring, boring, Ron.

Ron, if you had put some DRAMA into this, you would have
had something. For example, "We have to sweep out the remnants
of failed education theories from our classrooms and ed schools.
It's time to concentrate on what works!"


- Shifting of the high school mathematics courses of algebra and geometry into the middle school experience.

Oh Ron, what a distinctly HORRIBLE idea!

Only a lousy half (54.3%) of students even came up to the
MINIMUM state standards for 8th grade math in the 2005 ISAT,
and yet you want to cram MORE into pre-high school years?

What a horrible, horrible idea!

We've got a vast number of kids in this state who can't
handle basic math, don't know standard algorithms, have
little or no experience with operations on fractions,
are vague at best on decimal conversions -- in short,
are utterly incompetent. AND YOUR RESPONSE IS TO
FORCE ALGEBRA AND GEOMETRY INTO THOSE YEARS?

I honestly can't even begin to imagine what you were
thinking on this one.

Meanwhile, you're ignoring the more basic problem:
the infestation of our K-8 schools by theory-based fuzzy math
programs that have been a disaster.


- Increased graduation requirements: four years of math and three years of science

Let me get this straight:

1) Our schools are using trendy but discredited fuzzy theories
to teach math,
2) and a thin soup of gee-whiz pyrotechnics to "teach" science,
3) with predictably awful results.
4) And your solution is NOT to restore rigor, but rather
to extend the nonsense by extra years?

Do I have that right?


- More options for 11th and 12th graders, including career training and apprenticeship programs and dual enrollments with community colleges and universities

OK, so that sounds like a fine idea since so many kids
come out of our schools with little ability to do much
of anything that requires thinking or knowledge.


- Cooperation and exchange between public and private higher education

And this is in the press release WHY EXACTLY? It's
inscrutable and means nothing on its face, so why did you
think anyone would be enthused about this?


- Incentives for teachers to encourage excellence in instruction

Ah, a Rorschach test!

Uh, does this mean you are going to reward teachers for
"achieving" meaningless steppingstones such as goofy
NBPTS certification, or going to fuzzy-wuzzy in-service
chatfests?

Or,

does it mean that you will reward teachers for
concrete evidence of teaching success, through merit pay
for gains in Value Added Assessment (VAA)?

If it IS the latter, and you are prepared to support
the common-sense notion that GREAT teachers deserve better
compensation, then why not simply SAY so and generate
some enthusiasm for your campaign?


- Funding our state's P-16 education needs FIRST, before all other programs

Sounds good for a few seconds, until one thinks,
"But what is that supposed to MEAN?"

I've tried and tried, but I can't see that it means anything
other than you intend to spend EVEN MORE MONEY on
a bloated cesspool of a bureaucracy that is already
awash with cash!


Heavens knows the education bureaucracy in this state needs a major shaking up. TWO MILLION KIDS in public schools in Illinois need your help in fixing the lunacy in their classrooms. It's an old but apt metaphor: We don't need to talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need REAL REFORM.

I suspect that Illinois voters would respond to a message of REAL REFORM as well.

Sincerely,

Kevin Killion
Director, Illinois Loop

Friday, February 10, 2006

Q&A | MATH TEACHING

Yet another article pointing out why American students are not properly educated. More money is not the answer reform is the answer. Paying bad teachers more will not improve the quality of education in any school system. What is needed is real reform. Teachers with masters degree in the subjects they teach, teaching degrees do not lead to mastery in the subject they teach. No more money to the schools until legislators are willing to legislate real reform. Our concern must be to the students not to the unions and administrators who are destroying the education system and students lives by not properly educating them or preparing them and this Country to prosper in the 21st century. Please be sure to catch the complete series in the LA Times.

Q&A | MATH TEACHING
Students in the U.S. Could Use New Formulas
By Tanya Caldwell
Times Staff Writer

February 3, 2006

The nation's children aren't the best and brightest in the world when it comes to math, according to the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Even among industrialized countries, the United States ranked ninth out of 12.

As the Los Angeles Times' Monday installment of "The Vanishing Class" series described, 35% of future elementary school instructors who studied at Cal State Northridge, the largest supplier of new teachers to the Los Angeles Unified School District, got Ds or Fs in their first college-level math class last year.

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer has cited the "cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system."

William Schmidt, a professor at Michigan State University and executive director of its Third International Math and Science Study Research Center, was asked by The Times whether other countries have as much trouble finding adequately trained math teachers as the United States.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Question: Why are many other countries so far ahead of the United States in math achievement?

Answer: These other nations have a much higher level of expectation for their students. The teachers who
then teach these courses — at least in the highest-achieving countries — have a much greater preparation in the subject matter of mathematics, so that they're able to teach those more challenging levels of mathematics.

Put simply, from the data we have, we know that by the end of eighth grade, U.S. students are probably some
two years behind their counterparts in most of the rest of the world…. Middle school in the rest of the world is about algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics. In this country it's still about a lot of arithmetic and what I call "rocks and body parts."

Q: It seems that the quick solution would be to just set higher expectations.

A: That's really what the whole thing surrounding No Child Left Behind is about. States have begun to raise their standards and, as a result … there has been a movement to greatly increase the rigor and the demand of the state standards. Here in Michigan we have new standards, and they are much more demanding than were the standards that preceded them. So I think that there has been a response to this and it's beginning to change.

Q: How is it that students aren't excelling as well in high school math classes — presumably because they haven't learned the basics — when they seem to have done better in previous years when those basics were first applied?

A: Studies show that middle school is where we lose a great deal of ground, at least internationally. The middle school in these other countries in mathematics is much more demanding. And it's much more of a transition into what we in this country first do in high school. So when our kids come into high school, they're a couple of years behind already. And our high schools just can't make it up.

Basically, the middle school is not preparing kids adequately. But it actually goes all the way back even into primary school, where, again, the kids are not being prepared well, don't understand and aren't able to do the computations associated with simple arithmetic.

Q: So it starts in elementary school?

A: We need to really start a much more serious, clearly defined, coherent curriculum all the way back there, and then we'd have a better shot at doing better with our kids.

A lot of mathematics in this country is not designed very coherently. It doesn't progress from the simple to the more complex in ways that are reflective of the mathematics discipline. There's a sequence of things that make the most sense. And very typically in American schools, these sequences are not very clearly laid out.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Fractions, for example, are very difficult for students. Instead of introducing the concept clearly enough so that they understand fractions as numbers on the number line, we oftentimes try to move too quickly to other parts of fractions, such as the operations, before they really have a clear understanding of what fractions are and how they fit into the broader number system.

So kids are trying to learn how to operate on these things, and at the same time they really don't understand what they are, so things get very muddled in their minds.

Q: What will it take to get U.S. students to perform better than their overseas peers?

A: We need a more coherent, challenging curriculum. And we need a set of teachers who have a strong background in mathematics and who know how to teach mathematics to kids and can then bring those high expectations to these kids. It's fairly simple. You look across the world, and that's what the difference is.

Q: Are the nations throughout the world using a different curriculum? Do they have different teaching methods?

A: That's actually a point I want to make very clearly. There doesn't seem to be one perfect method for doing this across the world. Different countries have different methods, just like we do here in the United States.

The real issue is the what. What it is that they're studying, in what grade levels in what sequence and at what level of rigor. Those are the issues that become important, not the how. It's more the what.

Q: We're just not being hard enough.

A: Yes. That's it, in a certain sense. As we move through the grades, we keep repeating topics year after year. We try to do too many topics at each grade level. We coined the phrase the "mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum" as a characteristic of the U.S., which means they just keep repeating these topics and as a result they have so much every year that it's too much
for the kids to try to learn.

In these other countries it's a more focused attention on a smaller number of topics that progress across the grades in a logical fashion, leading to higher levels of expectation as you get up in the grades, like in the middle grades. And that's what we need.

Q: In Los Angeles, some educators say they have a hard time finding qualified teachers. Is that a problem for other nations?

A: For some. In the elementary grades, everybody struggles with this, because elementary teachers have to teach all the subjects. But once you get into about middle school, this is more of a problem in the United States, where our teachers are not as well prepared as the teachers in these other countries.

We are doing a study right now across six countries in which we very clearly find that U.S. teachers — U.S. teachers from middle school — are not being … required to take the same level of mathematics that is true in other countries. Teachers that are going to teach middle school mathematics have to have a stronger background.

Q: What can be done to ensure that the future math teachers who are still in school will be better than the teachers who taught them?

A: The simple answer is that they have to have a more rigorous training while at the university level. Many of our teachers carry with them that inadequate preparation and carry it right back and teach much the same way. It is a vicious cycle.

We need to raise the level of expectation for the students that are in our K-12 system so that they are more competitive. But we also have to raise the level of preparation of our teachers so that they can come in and actually teach those more challenging and more demanding curricula. It really demands both of those things in order to make the difference and catch up with the rest of the world.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

By the numbers

A 2003 study found that U.S. 15-year-olds scored low
among industrialized nations on the PISA* mathematics
test. Rank Country Score
1. Hong Kong (region) 550
2. Netherlands 538
3. Japan 534
4. Belgium 529
5. Australia 524
6. New Zealand 523
7. Norway 495
8. Hungary 490
9. Latvia 483
(tie) United States 483
11. Russia 468
12. Italy 466
* Program for International Student Assessment

-

Source: American Institutes for Research

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Threats don't work

We at CRAFT encourage all parents being subjected to the same threats in your school district to write similar letters to the editor and to your school board expressing your sentiments if they are the same as this persons sentiments below. This Letter to the Editor appeared in the February 9 edition of Beacon News newspaper. Click on the post title to get to the Beacon News website.

Threats don't work

After reading all the threats about cutting activities if the school referendum doesn't pass, we've received a letter from the school, through our children, highlighting the cuts. This begs me to ask a few questions about the people on the School Board and the administrators for the school. First, why do they have to resort to threatening rhetoric? I work, along with my wife, to pay the taxes on our house in Yorkville, but neither of us respond well to the threats. If my children want to participate in after-school activities, we would find a way to pay for them. So by cutting the after-school activities they have not hurt our feelings. If you want to play, you should have to pay.
Why do we need buildings of such opulence with curved walls? Isn't it cheaper to make it a straight-forward building with square corners? Do we need a showcase for someone's ego, or a facility in which to teach the children? Every school I ever attended was a brick building, with square corners and minimal architectural details. All of them are still in use today. Why not pick one plan that can be replicated as the need grows, instead of several different designs?

I think the people of Yorkville should be very leery of the direction we're heading, when threats instead of logical options are the way to get in peoples pocketbooks. You are not going to embarrass me into voting for some referendum by bullying me and telling me my kids will suffer. This just shows me that you placed the children second.

Tony Pekich

Yorkville

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bullying starts with pro-referendum pushers

It is no wonder we have a problem with bullying in public schools. The very people that are to be educating our children bully our children, their families, the taxpayers and government officials into supporting referenda. The children learn bullying from the pro-referendum hoodlums. All across Illinois school districts are threatening program cuts and shunning fiscal responsibility. Some school districts are threatening lawsuits against those who are opposing referenda. This must stop.

The school district and school board exist to educate our child and to be good stewards of our taxpayer dollars. The school board is not there to serve the interests of the teachers unions, administrators, banks, contractors, real estate agents, bound counsels and various other special interests groups.

Developers’ not current homeowners should shoulder the burden for the building of new schools. This can be done through impact fees and agreements with the city councils and zoning boards before these developments are built.

School boards, teachers and administrators cry that there is a funding problem, the problem is their spending. One just needs to review the teachers’ and administrators’ contracts and a history of revenues to understand that spending is the problem.

Bravo to those public officials who will not take a position on referenda. Bravo to those parents who are speaking out against these referenda if more parents like you speak out these referenda will fail. Parents can teach their children a great deal about sticking up for themselves by not giving into these bullies. Sticking up for yourself also leads to better self esteem. Parents as well as children should write school boards and let them know the boards primary interests are to the children and being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars. Reasonable contracts would lead to balanced budgets. A no vote does not mean cut programs, it means we think you have enough money and we want you to spend it wisely. Vote no on March 21st this is the first step toward fiscal accountability.

End Teacher Strikes

End teacher strikes

In his recent letter to Crain's, Arnold Aprill claimed it was "no secret" that Illinois "ranks at the bottom of the country in funding education." Of course it's "no secret" because even the latest rankings reported by the National Education Assn. (NEA), the union representing most teachers outside Chicago, show that it's patently false.

According to the NEA rankings for 2005, Illinois spends the ninth-highest amount per pupil among the states. The report also showed that our spending is about 20% higher than the national average.

The NEA report identified why our children are shortchanged in programs such as art and other educational enrichments: disproportionately high staff salaries and raises.

The study reported that instructional staff in Illinois have the third-highest salaries among the states. Perhaps more troubling is the revelation that average Illinois instructional staff salaries grew at the highest rate of any state last year at 5.5%. This level of salary increase is unsustainable from any state or local revenue stream.

The solution to this problem is technically simple, but politically difficult. The General Assembly needs to prohibit teacher strikes in suburban and Downstate schools as they are in Chicago and 41 other states. It also needs to prohibit school boards from approving labor contracts for which they do not have a secured funding source and eliminate tenure protection for poorly performing senior staff.

Bob Shelstrom
Southland Education Watch
Palos Park

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Broken Bonds Daily Herald Series Continues

The stories below are day two of the three day Broken Bond series reported by Jeffrey Gaunt and Emily Krone of the Daily Herald. Be sure to get a copy of the stories and read them all before voting on any referendum. You may also want to contact the Daily Herald and tell them to keep up the great investigative reporting on public schools.

How the Daily Herald school bond study was done

What you should be asking

To be clear, schools aren’t thrilled, either

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Big money, unspoken practices: The costly world of school loans

Jeffery Gaunt and Emily Krone are doing another great series regarding schools. Be sure to pick up the Daily Herald the next three days, better yet they often do great articles on education you should obtain a subscription if you are willing and able. Must reads before you vote yes on any referenda.


Our analysis


Is this how you’d borrow money?
BROKEN BONDS Big money, unspoken practices: The costly world of school loans



On the hook for almost a half-billion

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