Support the ISAT Boycott in Chicago!

My head is spinning after two incredible days at the Network for Public Education national conference. It was their first conference – and plans are already forming for the next one. This gathering of education activists from around the country was inspirational and energizing.

We met folks who have had incredible successes – such as the Providence Student Union’s campaign to remove the requirement for passing the NECAP test for graduation in Rhode Island and TAMSA’s successful reduction of high school high-stakes testing from 15 to 5 exams in Texas.

We also met folks who are deep in the struggle right now. In Chicago Public Schools the teachers at two elementary schools have joined together to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). You can read more about what is happening in blog posts by CPS first grade teacher Michelle Gunderson here and here. Gunderson writes, “Educators and parents in Chicago joined forces this week to boycott the ISAT at two schools, Maria Saucedo Elementary School and Drummond Montessori. There are also over 1,000 parents at 37 other Chicago schools who requested to opt their child out of ISAT. They are supported in their decision by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE).”

The teachers have the support of President of the Chigaco Teachers Union Karen Lewis and AFT President Randi Weingarten – who were both at the NPE conference and have publicly stood up for the teachers in Chicago. The teachers also have the support of many parents. The school district has threatened to revoke teacher licenses (which they have no authority to do).

At DEY we encourage you to show your solidarity for this act of civil disobedience with the boycotting teachers in Chicago by signing their petition at Moveon.org. The petition states:

  • We support the teachers who refuse to administer and the parents who opt their students out from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
  • We call on Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education not to give the ISAT test this year.
  • There should be no retaliation by the Chicago Board of Education against the parents, students and teachers who have taken action to improve students’ education.

Announcing our *new* Early Childhood Activist ToolKit

Today we are pleased to announce the launching of our Early Childhood Activist Toolkit. The ToolKit has both Informational Resources and Action Resources. It also includes information about our new Action Mini Grant Initiative!

We have heard from many of you who are working hard to keep developmentally appropriate teaching, learning and assessing in our early childhood classrooms. We prepared the ToolKit to assist you with your very important efforts. As we know, current education reform is often working against these goals.

Please visit our website and let us know what you think – your feedback is valuable. This ToolKit is a direct result of our sessions at NAEYC’s Annual Conference (National Association for the Education of Young Children) in November, and we have been working hard to answer your call.

The shaping of the ToolKit will be an ongoing process, and your input is key. If you have thoughts on other items to add, please let us know.

DEY’s Action Mini Grant Initiative
We are excited to offer a mini grant initiative to help foster your good work in your community as related to DEY’s three principle goals:

  • To mobilize the early childhood community to speak out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.
  • To track the effects of new standards, especially those linked to the Common Core State Standards, on early childhood education policy and practice.
  • To promote appropriate practices in early childhood classrooms and support educators in counteracting current reforms which undermine these appropriate practices.

We are offering grants from $200.00 to $500.00. We will begin accepting applications on a rolling basis beginning February 1, 2014. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and up to 20 awards will be granted (depending on grant sizes). Possible actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Hosting a parent information meeting
  • Organizing a Call Your Legislator Day
  • Spearheading a letter writing campaign to politicians
  • Organizing a “Play-In” at the local school board
  • Publicizing an “Opt Out” campaign
  • See our website for more ideas…

Heroes in education – young and old

On Thursday evening, many educators gathered in Cambridge, MA to honor Jonathan Kozol as he received the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award. The event was sponsored by our colleagues at FairTest – the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Monty Neil, FairTest Executive Director, welcomed us to the event with an uplifting account of the ground swell of protests to high-stakes testing that have emerged this school year – and especially this spring. The movement continues to be “embryonic”, though it does feel as though parents, teachers and students across the country have begun to find their collective voice of resistance. Chicago Public Schools cancelled a district-mandated assessment for their youngest students last month – this followed quickly on the heels of the “Play-In” protest a CPS headquarters and a boycott of the state-mandated Prairie Achievement Exam by high school students. These parents, students and teachers who are standing up, boycotting, rallying and protesting are also heroes in education.

On a related note, educators in New York are gearing up for a Rally for Public Education in Albany on June 8th.  They’ve asked us to spread the word. Below, see a Top Ten list of reasons for attending the rally – as well as a YouTube video to help spread the word.

TOP TEN reasons to March on Albany in the Rally for Public Education:

10. You have realized public education is being hi-jacked by for profit organizations.

9. You are tired of reading about how ineffective you are at your own profession by people who know nothing about education.

8. You believe high stakes testing is out of control in NY.

7. You believe you have not had enough time to learn the Common Core yourself, let alone have your students tested on it!

6. You believe your students’ personal information, including their state assessment results and their IEPs and other personal data should be kept confidential.

5. You believe your effectiveness rating should be kept confidential, and don’t want a link on the district web page to this information or directions given to get this information.

4. You believe that NYS should report to the public the amount of tax payer money spent on developing, administering, grading and reviewing state assessments.

3. The word PEARSON makes your skin crawl.

2. You work in Averill Park (Insert your own school district.)and have lost about a quarter of your faculty due to unfair state budget cuts!

AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON….

1. You are a caring professional who wants the BEST public education for your own students, children, and grandchildren and you know this isn’t it!

Michelle Smead, Averill Park Teachers’ Association

An Open Letter to Secretary Arne Duncan – from an Early Childhood Educator

This is an update to our previous post on the fantastic “Play-In” protest at the headquarters for Chicago Public Schools. The Play-In was organized to advocate for more appropriate curricula in Chicago’s early childhood classrooms and it had the support of the Chicago Teachers Union. In fact, Michelle Strater Gunderson, who is the Early Childhood Committee Chairperson for the Chicago Teachers Union wrote a powerful Open Letter to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. She wrote:

“As an early childhood educator, I was thrilled to hear President Obama’s strong focus on preschool education in the State of the Union address. We have a preponderance of research evidence that tells us quality early childhood education makes a difference in the learning lives of children, and providing expanded opportunities for parents and children is a step in the right direction.

Yet, there are many concerns as this policy unfolds.

It is understandable that when the government spends money on a program that there should be accountability to the public. It is a grave concern, however, that most of the policy you create uses standardized testing as the measure of success in education. A regimen of intensive testing is counterproductive and against developmentally appropriate early childhood practice. Children do not need to experience their first feelings of defeat at the hands of a test when they are three.”

Read the entire letter here.

For a powerful visual of just how testing has taken over in the early childhood classrooms in Chicago Public Schools, check out this blog post from At the Chalk Face. Make special note of how few days are coded white – meaning there are no tests given. There are also days where three colors are overlapping – meaning teachers are juggling three different assessments at that time. When so much time is spent testing, how much time can actually be spent teaching?

When Education Goes Wrong: Taking the Creativity and Play Out of Learning

Here at DEY we hope that you do not miss Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige’s Tedx Talk from the Calhoun School in New York City. Carlsson-Paige weaves stories from real children into her powerful talk as she illustrates the misguided direction of current education policies in our country.

Follow this link to the TEDx talk on YouTube:

“The difference between understanding concepts and reciting facts is very important for us to understand right now, because it captures the essence of what is happening in education today. There is a gross misunderstanding of what education is that has swept across the country.” -Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige

Will Obama’s plan lead to what is best for children?

Much has been happening in the early childhood world. On February 14, President Obama released details of his new Plan for Early Education for all Americans. Although this focus on early childhood education might be viewed as positive, we have deep concerns about aspects of the plan, such as the call for “a rigorous curriculum” and the “plan to implement comprehensive data and assessment systems”.

Valerie Strauss, from the Washington Post, raises the same concerns in her post Why is Obama calling for a ‘rigorous curriculum’ for 3-year-olds? She writes:
 “Young children need to have multiple, varied, challenging, hands-on and open-ended sensory experiences, not worksheets. Children should be encouraged to interact with their environment and build relationships with each other in order to develop critical thinking skills and empathy.” 

and

“There’s nothing wrong with rigorous curriculum, of course, but “rigorous” is not exactly the word you think of when little kids come to mind. How about a creative curriculum? How about a curriculum based on social emotional development?

If the program winds up forcing very young children into learning situations that are not developmentally appropriate and that are test obsessed, an initiative that sounds great will be just the opposite.” Read Strauss’ entire piece here at The Washington Post.

Similar questions are raised by Erika Christakis who wrote the piece The Catch-22 of Obama’s Preschool Plan for Time Magazine. She writes:

“Kindergarten classrooms today have been scrubbed of many of the essential ingredients including freedom for dramatic play, creativity, and conversation. Gone are blocks and dress-up corners and dedicated play time. Artwork has been replaced with word walls promising a “print-rich” environment that few five-year-olds can, in reality, actually understand. Drill and kill worksheets are the norm. Many kids can’t handle the pressure: suspensions in the early years have increased dramatically since the 1970s, even trickling down to preschools where children are expected to be “ready” for a kindergarten curriculum that would have been more appropriate to a 1st or second grade classroom 20 years ago.” 

and

“If states continue of this wrong-headed path, there’s no reason to believe President Obama’s laudable proposal won’t inflict the same high-stakes testing climate on even younger kids. That would be a disaster because a disproportionate emphasis on academic skills in the preschool years violates everything we know scientifically about healthy child development: that three- and four-year-olds learn best when learning is embedded in social relationships, real life experience, and unhurried exploration. In short, young children, like all other mammals, learn through play.”  Read Christakis entire piece here.

Finally, we present DEY’s latest member of our National Board of Advisers, Dr. Doris Pronin Fromberg, Professor of Education at Hofstra University, who sums up her reaction to Obama’s plan this way:

Applause is due for President Obama’s support of universal pre-kindergarten. Below are some thoughts about The Upsides; The Downside Cautions; and Possible Future Outlooks.

The Upside:  There is research to support the cost-benefit to society of fine quality early childhood education, particularly for children from low-income homes

During the past 40 years, different studies have found a $1.00 investment in fine quality early education yielding as high as a $16.00 cost-benefit return by reducing retention, school dropouts, improved high school graduation, less incarcerations, and improved employment histories.

The Upside: Children from low-income and immigrant families benefit significantly from pre-kindergarten/Head Start settings.

The Upside: There is research that finds kindergarten children attained higher test scores when their teachers were specifically state certified to teach early childhood education.

The Downside Caution: Early childhood teachers typically work with 100% of school principals and central school administrators who have had no required preparation to understand the distinctive ways in which pre-kindergarten and kindergarten learn.

In order to effectively supervise, support, and evaluate early childhood teachers, school administrators would need to understand how teachers can match early learning with a rich repertoire of teaching activities; classroom organization, scheduling, and equipping.

The Downside Caution: Federal funds in recent years have followed the path of the past 14 years of educational funding by focusing on testing and evaluation. Part of the impact has been an increase of teaching narrowly to the test and downright reporting fraud by frightened adults. The testing funds typically have categorized rather than qualitatively or quantitatively improved rich learning.

(If you have 15 minutes of curiosity, I invite you to view a TEDx talk on the economic impact of high-stakes testing when compared with fine quality early childhood education. Google: Doris Fromberg TEDx as well as  Lawrence Schweinhart TEDx).

The Downside Caution: Federal funds have found their way into massive overlays of administrative costs as well as testing costs.

The Downside Caution: More than 95% of kindergarten children attend public schools. Their teachers are required to have professional state certification. Barely 50% of children attend any pre-school programs, and their teachers often do not have specific preparation in how to match teaching with the conditions with which young children learn. There is a 45-55% turnover rate among non-public school early childhood staff members.

In 1993 Trellis Waxler stated that, if the federal government had invested modestly in college scholarships for Head Start teachers instead of isolated bits of uncoordinated staff development, there could have been less turnover, more stability, and stronger educational benefits to the young children.

Pre-kindergarten funding within states has streamed into non-public school settings which might or might not have professionally state certified teachers. Many of the settings drill children in unproductive ways and support the children’s alienation from school.

The Possible Future Outlook: Focus funds on supporting states to require professional state-certified preparation for all teachers, building level, and school district administrators who are responsible for the education of pre-kindergarten children. Professionals are able to assess young children through multiple means, sequence their learning experiences, and differentiate instruction effectively.

The Possible Future Outlook: Minimize administrative costs. Maximize relevant materials (other than tests), equipment, and require professional educators for the benefit of young children.

Fine quality professionally certified educators who can match teaching with the conditions with which young children learn are likely to support the society’s needs for STEM (Science-Technology Engineering, and Mathematics) professions. Moreover, young children who have a richly engaging early education have the potential to become productive adults and informed citizens.

*See Related References below

At this point, with so many questions and concerns, here at DEY, we will be watching closely and with caution. We wonder, can the Obama plan can be shaped into a plan that leads to what is best for children and to a plan that does no harm?

Related References from Dr. Doris Pronin Fromberg:

  • Association of Teacher Educators and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1991). Early childhood teacher certification. Young Children 47, (l), 16-21.
  • Arnett, J. (1987). Caregivers in day care centers: Does training matter?Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 10, 541 – 552.
  • Bodrova,E.,& Leong, D.J. (2007). The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice-Hall.
  • Deal, T.E., & Peterson, K.D. (1991). The principals’ role in shaping school culture. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
  • Early Childhood Advisory Council & Council on Children and Families (2012). New York State early learning guidelines. Author.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (1992). Certification of early childhood teachers. In L.R. Williams & D.P. Fromberg (Eds.).The encyclopedia of early childhood education  (470 – 472). New York: Garland.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (2006).Kindergarten education and early childhood teacher education inthe United States: Status at the start of the twenty-first century. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 27(1) 65-85.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (2012). Kindergarten today: Is the match between high-states outputs and low-impact inputs cost-effective? TEDTalk. (You Tube)
  • Fromberg, D.P. (n.d.) A comparison of small-group compared with whole-group instruction in kindergarten. Unpublished study.
  • Howard, E., Howell, B., & Brainard, E. (1987). Handbook for conductingschool climate improvement projects. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
  • Jerrold, R.H. (2011). A comparison of early childhood linear-academic and nonlinear intellectual teaching methodologies. Doctoral dissertation. Cypress, CA: Touro University.
  • Lazar, I., Darlington, R., Murray, H., Royce, J., &Snipper, A. (1982). Lasting effects of early education: A report from the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 47, (2 – 3), 1-151.
  • McMahon, E.M., Egbert, R.L., & McCarthy, J. (1991). Early childhood education: State policy and practice. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
  • National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (1992). 38thannual guide to accredited education programs/units. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Reynolds, A.J.,Temple,  J.A., Robertson, D.L., & Mann, E.A. (2001). Long-term effects of an early childhood intervention on educational achievement and juvenile arrest. A 15-year follow-up of low-income children in public schools. Journal of the American Medical Association 285 (18), 2339-2346.
  • Ruopp, R., Travers, J., Glantz, F., &Coelen, C. (1979). Children at thecenter: Summary findings and their implications. Cambridge, MA: Abt.
  • Rust, F., O’C. (1993). Changing teaching, changing schools: Bringing earlychildhood practice into public education. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Schwartz, S.L., & Copeland, S.M. (2010). Connecting emergent curriculum and standards in early childhood education: Strengthening content and teaching practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Schweinhart, L.J., Koshel, J.J., & Bridgman, A., (1987). Policy optionsfor preschool programs. Phi Delta Kappan 68, 527.
  • Schweinhart, L.J., et al, (2005) Lifetime effects: The HighScope Perry preschool study through age 40. Monograph of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation No.14. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.
  • Schweinhart, L.J. (2012). The return on investment of high quality preschool. TED Talk. (You Tube).
  • Seplocha, H.,&Strasser, J.(2009). A snapshot of quality in kindergarten classrooms in low-income districts: Implications for policy and practice. Trenton: New Jersey Department of Education..
  • Smith, W.F., & Andrews, R.L. (1989). Instructional leadership: How principals make a difference. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Warger C. (Ed.). (1988). A resource guide to public school early childhood programs. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Stipek, D., Feiler, R., Daniels, D., & Milburn, S, (1995). Effects of different instructional approaches on young children’s achievement and motivation. Child Development 66, 209-233.

136+ MASSACHUSETTS EDUCATION PROFESSORS, RESEARCHERS ENDORSE STATEMENT AGAINST HIGH-STAKES TESTING

More than 136 Massachusetts education professors and researchers have added their voices to a growing national rebellion against high-stakes testing. In a joint statement, the experts called for a new state assessment system that will better evaluate the competencies children need to succeed. The signers also urged an end to the state’s current overreliance on high-stakes standardized exams.

The signers say Massachusetts standardized tests “provide only one indicator of student achievement, and their high-stakes uses produce ever-increasing incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, or even to cheat.” Because of these negative consequences, the signers “call on the [Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education -- BESE] to stop using standardized tests in high-stakes decisions affecting students, teachers, and schools.”

The endorsers of the statement recommend that the Secretary of Education, Education Commissioner and BESE:

    Work with educators, parents and the public to craft a new assessment system that will more fully assess the many competencies our children need to succeed in the 21st century and that will avoid the current overreliance on standardized tests.
    Stop using MCAS test results as a barrier to high school graduation.
    Prohibit the use of student test scores in educator evaluations and in decisions for hiring, firing, laying off or rewarding teachers.
    Focus teacher evaluations on the appropriate use of evidence-based teaching practices and a comprehensive set of indicators of classroom and school-based student learning rather than one-shot test scores.

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University, a leading national early childhood education expert, is one of the statement’s four initiators. “The over-reliance on standardized tests, a destructive influence in American education for over a decade, has now become commonplace in classrooms for our youngest learners,” Carlsson-Paige said. “Increasingly, in early childhood programs across the country, testing and test prep are taking the place of the high-quality education experiences that early childhood professionals have long known are essential for long-term success in school and in life.”

Among the signers are former public school teachers who are now higher education faculty. Floris Wilma Ortiz, Assistant Professor at Westfield State University and the 2011 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, said, “I come from 23 years of teaching classes of English Language Learners. I know first-hand what the MCAS does to them. How can we unite our forces on behalf of a pretty quiet population, immigrants and ELLs who often are overlooked and measured with the same stick?”

Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, is Author in Residence at Northeastern University. He sees the negative impact of the testing regime on his students’ writing ability. “The past decade of high-stakes standardized testing in our schools has created college classrooms where the crucial skills of critical thinking and expression are eclipsed by concerns for ‘what’s on the test?’” MacDonald said. “The college professor—particularly of writing–who wants students to express their ideas clearly has to spend precious classroom time undoing the paralysis caused by the culture of testing. With the lessons ingrained by high-stakes standardized exams, our schools fail to nurture the potential citizen leaders a democracy requires. And, ultimately, our nation fails the test.”

“The common sense outcry against the testing regime is gaining momentum across the nation,” said Dr. Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Lynch School of Education, Boston College. “This anti-testing statement reminds all of us who are interested in the welfare of children to join together to stop the madness that has conflated learning with test score production for the benefit of testing corporations.”

Dr. Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, also helped initiate the statement. “Across the nation, parents, students, teachers, other community members and academics are saying, ‘Enough!’ to the overuse and misuse of standardized tests,” Neill said. “This statement by a broad range of Massachusetts professors and researchers is an important addition to the growing national test reform movement.”

See full list of endorsers here.