The Power of Free, Self-Selected Reading

The Whimsy of Radicals

The recent spate of criminals shooting police officers is a bad omen and serves as a reminder of the past. In 1970 the Black Panthers were murdering cops. Hippies were hoisting the flag of North Vietnam over government buildings. Radicals in Greenwich Village were plotting to murder soldiers and their dates at a Fort Dix dance. Democrat George Corley Wallace was promising violence if President Nixon persisted in his plan to peacefully desegregate Southern schools with cabinet level committees. Out of this gangsterism and barbarism the silent majority rose up to give Richard Nixon the biggest electoral victory in history at that time. The radical defeatism of George McGovern and treason of the Jane Fonda crowd was rejected in favor of the gradual ending of the war in Vietnam and a rebuilding of the Great Society that LBJ lost in burning American cities and rice paddies of Vietnam. A focus on Sickle Cell, minority hiring, cancer research and drug treatment won out over those who sought to bring the nation down. 

The next time you hear a politician mention the silent majority, remember where the phrase came from and how they continue to regulate the whimsy of the radicals.

Under Avossa-the buck stops…there.

I recently reported that Palm Beach superintendent Robert Avossa was off to a rough start in his new job. He broke his own hiring freeze to bring in some friends to fill high paying positions and rewarded a plagiarizing principal with a desk job while overturning his original plan to dock the principal pay for ten days. In the process, Avossa ignored the hard work of the peer committee handling the plagiarism case.

It gets worse…

School opened up last week with major transportation problems that were well known and reported up the chain of command. Dangerous conditions continue to exist with bus routes.

The response from Avossa was to publically throw his employees under the bus. He called his own transportation department “tone deaf.” Not once did Avossa take blame. Good leaders do not publically throw employees under the bus.

Avossa claims nobody told him of problems but it is the job of a leader to find out what is going on. Again, Avossa passed the buck.

And what is new deputy superintendent -and Avossa friend -David Christiansen doing? If Avossa is too busy to meet with rank  and file employees, certainly his deputy can.

It appears Avossa is in over his head and the Board should put the new superintendent on a very short leash. The public humiliation of employees is a troubling sign.

As Predicted! PERT testing not going away in Palm Beach & other counties. Opt out?

Despite the new law making the PERT test optional and no longer state funded, districts are still going to force students to take this test. The result is more class time lost and local tax dollars diverted.

This test can be easily taken by students at any local community college if they want to or need to for admission. Why force students to test in high school? The answer is simple. It is part of the accountability system and schools help their “school grades” if they get kids to pass. I can assure you that this test is meaningless and repetitive. It is also the loss of an entire class period.

Today – Robert Avossa announced that Palm Beach will still force students to take this test. While not all students take the test- many will be required to do so. 

Parents and students need to know they can opt out of this test and take it in a relaxed setting IF they need to- at a local college.

The testing addiction continues.

Should School Board in Palm Beach consider firing Robert Avossa?

I know Robert Avossa has only been on his $350,000 a year and $1,000,000 life insurance policy job for a few months but he has already shown his hand. He has increased the size of the district administration, broken his own hiring freeze fiat and now comes word he wants to turn the district into a charter district. This allows the circus of profiteers, privateers and assorted money changers to enter the county in full force. It destroys the limited power of the union and gives him the autocratic power he seeks. Only the elected board (that oddly picked him despite better candidates) stands in his way. It might be time for the school board to put him on notice. A warning now might allow him to have a chance to realize the people do not want his charter agenda. Maybe he can succeed when he realizes he works for the people. I hope it works out but given past history and current remarks, the school board should be very firm here- or citizens should vote them out.

Is there some special crisis requiring the moves Avossa is attempting? No. I saw a message from someone familiar with Avossa from Fulton County. This lady posted a note in response to the Diane Ravitch piece about this topic that you can read here. Scroll down and read the reply from a lady who explains the Avossa game of masking a tightly controlled Broad agenda with the illusion of “listening.”

Voters also need to ask hard questions of the school board that picked Avossa- a man who said he had a passion for teaching but left the classroom after less than a decade.

Minnesota Ed. Commissioner Blames Teachers and is Addicted to Testing

Brenda Cassellius went to great pains to make sure the public knew that teachers were to blame for stagnant test scores and a so called “achievement gap.” This is what politicians do. They use testing as a political hammer and do everything to divert blame from their own failed philosophy that is centered on meaningless testing and test preparation.

Casselius said the test scores failed to show the progress that students might be making but that did not stop her from bashing teachers or continuing to advocate for the state’s testing regimen.

In response to years of stagnant math scores, Casselius said that the state will offer more training for teachers. Yes Brenda. Blame those stupid teachers who do not know their subjects.

In response to “low” reading scores, Casselius launched another attack saying, “As teachers master the standards and get better, it will work.” Brenda just could not resist attacking teachers who are given little freedom outside of her test preparation empire.

R.T Rybak, the executive director of Generation Next, a group that supposedly wants to close the achievement gap in Minnesota said, “We believe the number of children reading below grade level is shocking and should require immediate action.” R. T throws out the old “grade level reading” line that is also a hammer that is used to mislead about schools.

Grade level reading is a political term that means nothing. I can show that students read “on grade level” one day, above the next and below the following day. A lot depends on interest and the text itself. Valid cut scores live in the same land as unicorns.

Standardized literacy tests that states like Minnesota use are akin to literacy tests of the Jim Crow era and do more to keep minorities from college than any in school factor. They are mostly proxies of income. The research on the disparate impact of standardized testing on the poor and minorities is well known- but ignored by politicians eager to please the educational testing complex.

Let’s say that the passing score on the test is 245. If you score 244 you are labeled non-proficient and one who cannot read. What a scam$. These tests do a great job of killing one of the main goals of public education- creating avid lifelong readers. Individuals progress at different speeds and the on grade level canard must be exposed. Massive testing is a civil rights crime and robs us of our educations. Independent and religious schools trust teachers to evaluate students and so should the state. It is time to end the political hackery of cut scores, “on grade level” and test based accountability. In fact, we must demand its end.

Keep looking for those unicorns Brenda.

Welcome to Testergarten in Florida!

Just a reminder to all of you in Florida that state law forces all kindergartens to test all students within 30 days of the start of school. This test is meaningless and scripted. It offers little- if any- value. The testing beat goes on. Standardized testing is introduced to 5 year old children in order to properly numb them for the next twelve years. Let the sorting begin.

Riddle Me This!

This refers to one of the 67 superintendents in Florida.

He/she gets a $1 million life insurance policy as part of his/her employment contract 

When he/she worked in another state he/she instituted a regimen of 52 tests.

Everyone do your homework.

Avossa off to Rough Start

One of the first actions new Palm Beach superintendent Robert Avossa took was to institute an administrative hiring freeze.  Then – he ignored his own fiat and hired old pal David Christiansen as “deputy superintendent.” This is an obsolete position that will drain more money from the district. Avossa said he needed objective views but has already hired two old friends.  Christiansen has been described as a Jeffrey Hernandez type – and we all know how that worked out. Christiansen has bounced from job to job and came under heavy pressure in Lake County for his one size fits all approach. He also spent a lot of tax money on a computer program called Istation -supposedly to help reading scores. Of course teachers did not need this- they needed books and not zombie one size fits all programs.

Hopefully -as deputy superintendent and not chief academic officer -he will not be able to do as much damage in his new district.

I knew there was a problem with Christiansen when I read a quote that I often hear from those not familiar with the reading process. Christiansen said, “They learn to read pre-K to second grade. Once you come out of that third grade, you are reading to learn.” This , of course, is totally wrong.  Students -and even adults -are always learning to read AND reading to learn. Give me a book about lions and a second grader and I will show you Christiansen is wrong. Give me a high school student and a book about lions and I will show you Christiansen is wrong.

Will Avossa continue to alienate himself from his own infrastructure? If so- look for a coup in short order. The board in Palm Beach should be wary about what is happening.

Atticus Finch Under Attack

Headlines from many media outlets announced that Atticus Finch was a racist. Media appeared to be apoplectic over a few revelations about the soon to be released “Go Set a Watchman.” I now know why Harper Lee does not do interviews and just wants to be left alone. We shall deal with the racist allegations later. First, it is important to understand how Lee’s famous “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been co-opted over the years. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a convenient tool for the media and many academics to push the book as some broadside on race relations. While this aspect is there- it was never the only theme. One main theme in the book is that you do not harm others who have not deserved emnity. While the Tom Robinson trial is an example of this -we also see it with Boo Radley (white male) and a Mockingbird ( flying creature). Remember the admonition Atticus gives to Scout about shooting these birds. You might want to read that part again.  The theme of racism is there, but there are wider issues of morality involved.

Now what is this about Atticus Finch being a racist? Liberal columnist Jonathan Alter called Atticus the fictional equivalent of Bill Cosby. This is, of course, absurd. But it is instructive on how the media and some in academia continue to express outrage over reality and make the unpardonable mistake of judging people of the past by the standards of today. One of the first things I learned in my training in the field of history is that you must read evidence forward- not backward.

The new Harper Lee book comes out on Tuesday but I read the first chapter online. Apparently, some unscrupulous media outlets are releasing information about the rest of the book. It is reported that Atticus attended a KKK rally and made some other comments about “Negroes and segregation.” I can assure you that a white man attending a KKK rally in Alabama during the time periods both books cover is hardly news. The angst over integration during the same time period is hardly news. If these things are surprising I am sorry to inform you that there is gambling going on right now in Vegas.

Atticus Finch showed what all good lawyers do in his defense of the innocent Tom Robinson. Personal politics aside – everyone who became a lawyer because of Atticus should not be afraid to keep his “picture” on the wall. Apparently “Go Set a Watchman” gives us a full view of how most white Americans (and not just in the South I might add) felt about race issues during the time periods in the books. Atticus was very much a man of his times- and a bit more progressive than most. Actions speak louder than words. 

Did anyone even notice that in the first chapter, Lee points out that Maycomb County still votes Republican? This is important because during the time periods covered in both books the Democratic Party ran the “Solid South” strategy. They controlled the South and perpetuated Home Rule- white power and control. It was the Republican Party that was progressive on race. Maycomb was a progressive oasis in a Democratic swamp. I wonder if this theme will be explored in the book? It would be fascinating. But remember, what we consider progressive today should not be used to judge the 1930s-1950s. Only judge people “of the time -by the time.”

From what I gather, this new book will remind us of the ways some dealt with the issues of the day and how easy it is to judge people without knowing them.

 Those who are tossing around the racist salad about Atticus Finch have missed one of the main themes of  “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The media has turned Atticus into Boo Radley and that Mockingbird Scout is tempted to shoot. What did they ever do to you? 

You don’t shoot a Mockingbird. You don’t kill a Mockingbird.

May 29th Alert: Florida Schools are STILL testing

You might think that testing season in Florida is over. It is not. The AICE program -which is built around the British school year- is still in testing mode. Many AICE tests are given in two parts and must be taken a week apart. In some cases- seniors must come back AFTER graduation to take AICE tests. If all of the state required EOC, FSA and FCAT testing was eliminated there would be no problem. But, many of these state tests are also two sessions over two days. It is a logistical nightmare that caused the following to occur…

A. Much less teaching time from March to June.

B. It is a rare day to have a full class of students from March to June.

C. It was impossible to give all students FSA and EOC tests this year since AICE has no makeup dates and takes priority.

D. Throw in makeup testing for FSA and EOC tests and you might not see some students in class for two weeks. This actually happened.

E. In order to get higher school grades, schools are forcing students in AICE classes to also take the EOC in that class. Double testing. You will not read about that in the paper.

*AICE offers college credit and FSA/EOC testing does not. It is time to DUMP all EOC testing as well as FSA testing. The only other alternative is to dump AICE.

Florida has turned schools into testing factories and the beat goes on…

PS: Did I mention that it costs a school $10,000 for the “privilege” of being able to offer AICE testing? ┬áThat was the rate about eight years ago. Lord knows what it is now.

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