Jane Sanders: Testing is a ‘disaster’

If Bernie Sanders is elected president, he’ll take education policy “in the exact opposite direction,” said his wife Jane in a Nation interview.

“We don’t really believe in standardized testing,” said the former college president. “I think the standardized tests that they say: do you know fourth-grade English or fourth-grade history? I think is a disaster and absolutely would not support that.”

Bernie and Jane Sanders campaign together.

Bernie and Jane Sanders campaign together.

“Schooling is meant to help people be creative, to have their curiosity stimulated, and have them be actively thinking whatever they’re thinking about — whether it’s the stars, the universe, climate change, anything,” she said. “Having them be able to feel they can explore anything, learn anything.”

A former social worker and political consultant, Jane Sanders earned a doctorate in leadership studies and became interim president of Goddard College and then president of tiny Burlington College, an alternative school with a 25 percent six-year graduation rate. (She left the latter school in deep financial trouble.)

She’s a big fan of progressive education, which she defined as “just having the students have more of a say in what it is they want to learn.”

You might be studying philosophy, math, or English, but you’re learning about what your passion is. Instead of having there be a prescribed set of study — that has a person conveying that knowledge to you — the teacher, the professor is a facilitator to try to meet your needs and to get you thinking critically and writing clearly and communicating effectively.

What if thinking and writing aren’t the student’s passion? He can’t study philosophy or literature because he never learned “fourth-grade English.”

If poor kids are unteachable, why teach?

Do teachers think low-income students are hopeless? That’s the message Derrell Bradford gets from a Duluth News Tribune commentary and graphic that was retweeted by American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten.

In response to a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s teacher tenure law, the cartoon shows a seating chart filled with losers.

“Weingarten’s retweet shows what she and perhaps many of her members believe about our kids — that their entire identities can be reduced to the challenges they bring to the classroom, and that those challenges obviate and absolve the teacher’s responsibility in the learning equation,” writes Bradford.

Poor kids from tough places are no longer the outlier in America’s schools — they’re the majority of students.
 . . . Teaching is at a crossroads in this country but the issue isn’t which way we proceed with value-added scores or licensure and certification. It’s whether you’re up to the challenge of teaching poor kids or you’re not. There are no “better kids” waiting in the wings.

Bradford grew up poor. He could have been have been trapped in a “below poverty line” square, but he rode buses to get to better schools where teachers worked hard to educate him.

At #ThisTeacher Sees, teachers are making their own seating charts:

Apparently, some teachers have nothing but victims in their classes and others don’t have a single kid who rates “royal pain,” “never shuts up” or “cellphone addict.”

Mapping achievement gaps

A fourth grader works with his teacher in Union City, N.J., a low-income Hispanic district where students perform above grade level. Photo: Karsten Moran, New York Times

Large achievement gaps separate students by race and family income, concludes a Stanford study based on a data set of 200 million test scores.

Sixth graders in the most advantaged districts are more than four grade levels ahead of students in the least advantaged districts, the study found.

  • Average test scores of black students are, on average, roughly two grade levels lower than those of white students in the same district; the Hispanic-white difference is roughly one- and-a-half grade levels.
  • The size of the gaps has little or no association with average class size, a district’s per capita student spending or charter school enrollment.

White-black achievement gaps are especially large in Atlanta, Oakland,  Charleston and Washington, D.C., reports the New York Times, which created an interactive map of the results. Gaps also are large in university towns such as Berkeley and Chapel Hill, apparently because white students are likely to come from highly educated families.

Detroit has no achievement gap: Whites, blacks and Hispanics in district schools all are more than two years below grade level. Buffalo is gap-free too, for the same reason. Nobody’s learning.

“Poverty is not destiny,” said Sean Reardon, the lead researcher. In Union City, N.J. which is 95 percent Hispanic and mostly low-income, “students consistently performed about a third of a grade level above the national average on math and reading tests,” reports the New York Times.

Union City schools used to be dreadful, writes David Kirp, a Berkeley ed professor. Improvement was “slow and steady.”

Donald T’s first report card

From The New Yorker, via Alexander Russo.

Sub fired for teaching ‘vagina’ art

Allison Wint

Allison Wint is job hunting.

In a lesson about controversial art, a substitute art teacher told eighth graders that some viewers see “vaginas” in Georgia O’Keeffe‘s paintings, reports the Detroit Free Press. Allison Wint was fired by Harper Creek Middle School for . . . Saying the word “vagina?”

Wint remembers saying: “Imagine walking into a gallery when (O’Keeffe) was first showing her pieces, and thinking, ‘Am I actually seeing vaginas here, am I a pervert?’ ”

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Through the course of the lecture, she went on to use the word vagina “maybe 10 times,” she said. “But it was never in a vulgar capacity.”

I thought if I used a euphemism, that would make it into a joke,” she said.

School officials initially said teachers must get approval before discussing reproductive health, reports WWMT-TV.

Then, Harper Creek Superintendent Rob Ridgeway told the Free Press that Wint was fired for deviating from the art curriculum and not warning the principal that she’d be discussing controversy in art. “She was not terminated due to uttering the word ‘vagina,’ ” he said.

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However, Principal Kim Thayer told the Free Press that Wint had used the word “vagina … without previous approval.”

Thayer fired Wint on Friday, giving her one hour to gather her things and leave the school.

“It now seems abundantly clear that, in spite of her vehement denials, O’Keeffe meant some of her paintings (not just the flowers) to look vaginal,” writes Randall Griffin, an art history professor who’s authored a book on the artist. “Works such as Abstraction Seaweed and Water – Maine and Flower Abstraction overtly allude to female genitalia.”

College encourages lively consensus

Trescott University encourages a lively exchange of one idea, president Kevin Abrams told The Onion.

“We recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus.

Counseling is available for any student made uncomfortable by the viewpoint.

To help the poor, give them money

To prepare children from low-income families for school success, U.S. policy and funding has focused on Head Start and universal pre-kindergarten, writes Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst. But research shows that giving more money to low-income parents is more cost effective, he writes.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which raises the income of  low-income working parents, is more effective than providing free pre-K for four-year-olds, he writes. The chart also shows the modest effects of class-size reduction and Head Start.

Northern European countries focus on supporting family incomes rather than providing preschool or pre-K, writes Whitehurst. “A policy midpoint” could be giving families more money, but limiting it to expenditures on their young children. He envisions something like food stamps.

In Finland, working parents of young children can choose from a variety of child-care providers or “opt to receive a financial subsidy that allows them to reduce their work hours in order to be home more with their child,” he writes. “They can also take unpaid leave.” The rate of enrollment in child-care centers is very low for children under four.

Teen birth rate hits new low

The teen birth rate has declined by 61 percent since its peak in 1991, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 2006 and 2014, the teen birth rate for Hispanics fell by 51 percent and for blacks by 44 percent, while the birth rate for white teens declined by 35 percent. Hispanic and black teens remain twice as likely to give birth.

Some think MTV's "16 and Pregnant" has discouraged teen pregnancy by showing its challenges.

Some think MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” has discouraged teen pregnancy by showing its challenges.

More teens “are taking advantage of innovations like long-acting injectable and implantable methods that can last years over a daily birth control pill,” writes Ariana Eunjung Cha in the Washington Post. And teens are “having less sex.”

For younger teens, there’s now peer pressure to be abstinent, says Veronica Gomez-Lobo, director of pediatric gynecology at Children’s National Medical Center.

Abortion rates have declined or stayed in the same in every state but Vermont, according to the Guttmacher Institute’s research, Cha adds.

One of the most interesting possibilities has been the popularity of MTV’s hit reality show “16 and Pregnant.” The struggles of the young moms in the show – who were often shown in tears—may have served as cautionary tales to millions of viewers their age. A study that came out in 2014 estimated that teen births dropped 6 percent in the 18 months following the show’s first broadcasts.

Others theorize that better sex education programs and the ability to research effective contraception online have contributed to the decline.

Maybe school’s just not our nation’s thing

“After years of watching it struggle to perform academically in nearly every area of study, U.S. education officials told reporters Wednesday they have begun to think maybe school just isn’t the nation’s thing,” reports The Onion.

“When it comes down to it, school isn’t for everyone,” said Education Secretary John King Jr. “Every country learns in its own way,” he continued. “And that’s okay.”

College prep for all lowers grad rate

Requiring all students to take college-prep courses — and earn C’s or better — is raising the number of students eligible for state universities in San Diego, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report. It’s also lowering the graduation rate.

About 10 percent more students in the class of 2016 will meet the minimum requirements for University of California and California State University campuses, researchers estimate. However, 16 percent more students may fail to graduate from high school, pushing the graduation rate down to 72 percent,