Tag Archives: NCLB


The Huffington Post includes a list of 12 common items that have become obsolete this decade. Check ’em out.  If newspapers, and landline phones, and calling, and cameras with film, and fax machines, and wires and CD’s and dial-up internet and telephones and encyclopedias and the yellow pages and catalogs and hand-written letters may have all become obsolete… what in if anything, became obsolete in our public schools during the same time period?


Here are 12 things that have become obsolete in public schools during the past NCLB decade:

• Critical Thinking

• Hands-on Science

• Field trips

• Morning Recess

• Grades based on Teacher Judgment

• Creative Writing

• Physical Fitness

• Bilingual Education

• Haiku

• Fine Arts

• Tolerance

• Extracurricular Activities

You can keep up with what’s obsolete in your school by checking your local newspaper.  If you can find one.


Filed under public education, school reform, technology in schools


So we are down in Georgia attending a community charity event for Intuit. I didn’t bring my laptop so I am writing this post from my phone. No pics today… just this thought: what if the “free and public education” system extended into college? Like here in Georgia.

Clay told me that every graduating senior in the state is eligible for the Hope Scholarship; if they maintain a minimum GPA, and get accepted into a university in Georgia, all tuition is covered!

An awesome program. I wonder how many states offer their kids the same promise? How many kids take advantage of it? How far has it gone to bridge the sociology-economic divide? How do high schools tap into the grant and get their students on college campuses EARLY?

I wonder… what if the $30 billion a week spent on war…  or the $ trillion-plus investment into the pentagon… or the one million dollar a year per soldier… was invested here… for our kids… in our universities… to make college affordable; To make colleges and universities more accountable for the quality of their teaching? Like K-12 schools. No College Kid Left Behind.


Filed under college, El Milagro, innovation and change, post-secondary education, public education, teaching


testingThis past week the National Center for Education Statistics released a report that may have been a shocker for people outside of the education industry:  when it comes to student achievement, many of our states are cheating!  Or at the very least, they are cheating their kids.

According to an article in Education Week, their results suggest that between 2005 and 2007, various states made their standards less rigorous in one or more grade levels or subjects in at least 26 instances.

“I think as 2014 looms, … clearly what a lot of states are doing is changing the bar so that a lot more students will become proficient,” said Mark S. Schneider, who served as the NCES commissioner from 2005 to November 2008.


What do you expect from high stakes tests that threaten people’s jobs and their professional reputations? When you have put so much stock in leveraging improvement trends on standards-based tests… you invite otherwise well-meaning people to cheat.  So politicians who run on a promise to “improve public schools” and “raise the test scores’ and “close the achievement gap” will do what politicians do to stay in office.  And by lowering the bar in places like New York, you can create the illusion that more students are getting to grade level on your watch.  Even if they aren’t.

The states are free to establish their own standards and select their own tests to determine who has mastered those standards.  And they are free to define “Proficient” for their own students.  The lower the bar is set, the more students will test at “Proficient”.  And when you compare the students in states where the bar has been lowered to the students in California– if you don’t know those states are gaming the system– you will conclude that California’s public schools are inferior.

This is happening because there are no national standards or definitions or assessments required by NCLB.  It is a loophole for any states that choose to use it.  And how do we know that so many states are sand-bagging their kids?  All you have to do is look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an optional national test that assesses kids in 4th and 8th grade.

In 4th grade reading, for example, the federal study found that 31 states set proficiency scores that were lower than the cutoff for “basic” performance on NAEP. At the 8th grade level, 15 states set standards judged to be lower than the basic level on the national assessment for that grade.

The Northwest Evaluation Association has been reporting on this phenomenon for several years.  They too maintain that it is just easier to demonstrate proficiency in some states than it is in others– like California.

So the pressure gets turned up in California… from the top down.  And what happens?  Schools stretch to get their kids to those higher, more stringent levels of achievement– by any means necessary. And yes… they cheat.

One of California’ most celebrated charter schools is unapologetic in their methods.  They, in effect, have replaced their curriculum with the California Standards Test. They teach the test.  Every day.  And they hand-pick their students and eliminate those who don’t keep up with the daily rigors of “drill and kill”– the doctrine of test preparation.  The result? They are one of the highest performing schools in the entire state with an Academic Performance Index of 967!  The governor sings their praises because they demonstrate that getting all of your students to grade level can be done.

govBut the California Department of Education (over which the Governor presides)  forbids the practice of test preparation.  Regarding advance preparation for state tests, the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 854 (a) states:

Except for materials specifically included within the designated achievement test, no program or materials shall be used by any school district or employee of a school district that are specifically formulated or intended to prepare pupils for the designated achievement test. No administration or use of an alternate or parallel form of the designated test for any stated purpose shall be permitted for any pupils in grades 2 through 11, inclusive.

So they are cheating!  At least in spirit. But even worse, they have stripped the curriculum and the school of the real things that matter: the 21st century skills, the arts, technology.

And not to pick on one school, this practice is rampant in the state.  Teachers, by necessity, must provide daily test prep in one form or another to meet the accelerating expectations on the federal law, and their Governor, and their school boards.  And they must focus on the narrow scope of standards that are tested– especially language arts and math.

So they are all cheating their kids.  And one day soon, they will realize that for their collective zeal to game (or survive) a very flawed testing scheme… our students will pay.

our kids


Filed under charter schools, public education, school reform, standardized testing

JOURNALING CHAOS 4: “Las Preguntas”


The “I Ching” teaches that “Before there can be great brilliance… there must be chaos.”

This is PART 4 in a series of blog posts that document our research, strategic thinking, observations and debates as we take on one of the last vestiges of the industrial revolution: the practice in schools of organizing kids into grade levels according to their chronological age.  

There are often more questions than answers.

If we group our students according to their level of mastery and not by grade or chronological age;

If we defy all standard practice and industry norms and cultural mores and the hallowed “way we do things here”;  

If we defy American tradition itself and simply assign children to classroom groupings according to what they are ready to learn next… 

We must prepare to answer the questions.  So we started by asking them ourselves:

question mrkMaureen asked:  “Is it LEGAL to group kids for instruction– and eventually assign them a standardized test– according to their proficiency levels?” and “Is it ethical?”

Melinda asked: “If all kids take the California Standards Test according to their mastery level… and all kids end up scoring Proficient… won’t that look like we are cheating?”

Ryan asked: “A lot of our students are at different levels of proficiency for different subjects.  Some are proficient in math but not language arts.  So the state would have to provide our students with two different tests– two different grade levels.  Are they going to be able to do that?”

Lowell asked: “So you are talking about ‘dummying down’ the rigor just so you get higher test scores?”

Anthony asked: “Isn’t this just a sneaky way of avoiding accountability as a charter school?”

The Wizard asked:  “If we are labeling and re-labeling students by something other than a traditional grade level…  won’t that effect our funding from the state?”

Ivonne asked:  “If kids are grouped by mastery levels… and they don’t move to the next level until they demonstrate mastery of the level they are on… what happens to the kid that never demonstrates mastery?  Are we going to have 19 year-olds on our K-8 campus now?”

Kira said: “It sounds like your plan takes a lot of pressure off the teachers with those AYP goal and other requirements by the state of California.”  Then Kira asked:  “But if you do that, and now kids move to the next level only after they score Proficient on the CST… haven’t you now transferred the pressure from the teachers to the students?  What if you have students whojust aren’t good test takers? Are they stuck in elementary school forever?”

Conchita asked: “If you establish an age limit at El Milagro, and declare that you can’t stay here after the age of , say 14… but they still haven’t demonstrated mastery of the 8th Grade Test,  are you just going to socially promote them to high school?”

And “How is that any different than what we do now?”

Maria asked: “What about students transferring in during the school year from traditional graded schools?  If their child is a 5th grader, they are going to want them placed in the 5th grade!”

The Wizard is entitled to two questions so he asked: “How might our technology infrastructure play a role in helping students advance?”

pk asked: “Do you trust the California Standards Test… let alone the state standards… to serve as the benchmark for mastery before students can advance?”

Ricky asked: “Is this a protest against NCLB and the state’s accountability system… or a legitimate response to what the data tells us?”

celloJonathan noted: “There are a lot of ways to demonstrate mastery of state standards other than by a standardized test.  Are you giving the CST too much credibility as the main determiner of students moving forward? Are there other ways kids can demonstrate mastery of the state standards?”

RT asked: “Isn’t this a return to tracking?  Not that I see a conspiracy in every new idea, but we have been down this road before.  Isn’t this just another systemic guarantee that the same kids that always get left behind will still get left behind?”

Annie asked: “Can’t you achieve the same thing within the existing system of grade level groupings?”  

And since we are married she asked:  “You just aren’t happy until you are on the verge of getting fired, are you?”

Questions reflect the depth of the chaos. Or predict it.



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, technology in schools, Un-graded schools


*Apr 28 - 00:05*

…Education, Iraq, swine flu, press conferences, basketball, being American, economic recovery, green energy, housing, kids, race relations, jurisprudence, Pakistan, college costs, the White House website, Republican demise, GM, Oval Office photos, American voters, health care, health care for kids, Guantanamo, choice, Hispanic caucus, charter schools, Twitter, Michelle, the cabinet, Ted Kennedy, NY Times, NY Yankees, Bo, Peace Corps;

JFK, Teach for America, Hugo Chavez, Washington DC, the Obama kids, on-line media, high speed rail, Isreal, stock market, Arlen Specter, waterboarding,  MSNBC, US troops coming home, Fair Pay Act, a new NCLB, affordable student loans, Air Force 1, families, world travel, stem cell research, change, civil rights, the US Constitution,  gun control, global warming, New Orleans, honest communication, US reputation abroad, GNP, the VP;

Jazz, Rachel Maddow, early childhood education, NASA, environmental protection, fuel economy, Earth Day, veterans, immigration, S-CHIP,  Americans with Disabilities,  G-20 Summit, jobs,  home ownership,  fairness, nutrition, 21st Century skills, work-family balance, performance, Social Security, foreign policy, Nuclear waste disposal, Islam; 

Darfur, fossil fuels, US tax code, executive orders, National Academy of Sciences, clean energy, urban America, fitness, organic gardens, homeland security, the arts, poverty, dynamic speeches;

Two terms.


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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, health care, President Obama, public education


My students speak the language of their fathers and their fathers don’t all speak English.  California is a tough place to live and go to school if you don’t speak English. dsc_0125

We have a long and inglorious history in this state of lining up groups of people in our collective sights, and then stripping them of their fundamental rights through public elections (Remember Prop 8?).  So in 1998 Californians passed a state proposition that effectively banned bilingual education.

calImagine that.  While the rest of the world continues to require two and three languages for children, our state made bilingual education all but illegal.  I wondered:  is that really what Californian’s want for their children?  And if that is what Californians really want for their kids, why is a foreign language still a requirement for the vaunted University of California system?

And just in case any schools had ideas about ignoring the law (like, of course, we did at El Milagro), along comes NCLB  to squeeze every existing bilingual program that might still be operating in the state.

Because in California, the state board of education determined that children must take the state assessments in English. No exceptions.

parkingjpeg1So like all of their native US-born, monolingual, English-Only counterparts, our English learners have to demonstrate mastery of such things as reading comprehension, word analysis, mathematical operations, number sense, algebra and writing conventions.  They have to demonstrate that they know and can do what any child at their grade level should be able to do according to grade level standards.  And they have to do it in a foreign language called English. 

And of course the results matter.  Their school could fail to achieve the AYP goals for English language learners if they don’t get enough right answers on their test.  Their school could become a “Program Improvement School.”  There could be sanctions.  There could be consequences for their teachers and their principals. 

But that’s not all.

Schools with a high percentage of students struggling to learn English typically end up with a lower Academic Performance Index…

Results are published in the local media and the API of each school is compared and contrasted… 

calif-dist-schoolReal estate companies utilize sites like greatschools.net to market properties and neighborhoods with the highest scores…

Prospective new families then move to areas where they perceive there are the best schools…

…While communities with disproportionately large numbers of  English language learners  continue to experience declining enrollment, de facto racial and ethnic segregation, and high mobility.   

It’s a tough cycle to reverse. So schools, out of necessity, abandon their bilingual programs and opt for full English immersion and the bigoted doctrine of  “English-Only” wins. 

But isn’t there a better way? If you really want to assess what a child has learned , do so in the language with which they have the greatest degree of literacy– like the 14 other states (including Texas and New York) already do. 

If you are still unconvinced, please take the simple quiz below.  There are only three questions and if you are an educator or a parent or a concerned citizen—you have the answers!  Just imagine that your school’s reputation, your future, the entire social/cultural/economic fabric of your community depends on your score.  No pressure.  Relax and do your best—even if the quiz is in a foreign language:

Question Number 1:



Если ваша профессиональная репутация, ваша школа рейтинга, и будущее ваших учеников были все зависит от детей, каким образом осуществляется на стандартизированных испытаний, которые приведены в иностранном языке, вы должны:

А. выступаем за то, чтобы дети предоставили оценки на их родном языке ,

B. энтузиазмом участвовать в вашей государства осуществлять в учебных злоупотреблений;

C. вид, что исход отметив делать с языком, или

D. привести ненасильственного протеста

Question Number 2:

كاليفورنيا يطالب بأن تتخذ جميع الأطفال أنصبتها المقررة باللغة الانكليزية للأسباب التالية :

أ. انها حقا جيدة للأطفال

ب. لأنها أكثر موثوقية وسيلة لتحديد ما تعلمه الأطفال

C. لأنها ستوفر معلومات قيمة والمعلمين حول ما يعرف الطلاب

د. وسوف نتأكد من الطلاب لا يملكون غير عادلة رئيس جامعة كاليفورنيا تبدأ اللغة الأجنبية

Question Number 3

Λαμβάνοντας αυτό το παιχνίδι δεν είναι ένα έγκυρο κριτήριο της τη νοημοσύνη μου, διότι:

Α. Δεν μιλούν καμία από αυτές τις γλώσσες

Β. Είναι απλά μια προσομοίωση

C. Είμαι πραγματικά πολύ έξυπνη και μόλις πήρε suckered σε αυτό το κουίζ

D. Αν όλοι μιλούσαν αγγλικά δεν θα είναι απαραίτητα αυτό το κουίζ

checkjpeg1So how did you do?  Are you in Program Improvement?  You can check your answer and the translation here  on Sunday, January 4.


Filed under charter schools, El Milagro


There are schools all across America where 100% of the students are performing at their “grade level” as they always have… and always will. They don’t have to wait until 2014 or whenever NCLB shames every school into compliance or dire consequence. Your school could have every child at grade level too. By this Friday! 

The schools are academies for Tae Kwon Do that employ a fifty year old curriculum consistent with the Jhoon Rhee System. Students are at their level because in Tae Kwon Do the instructors are not bound by NCLB or the arbitrary practice of grouping students according to their age. Rather, each student earns a color belt that represents the level, along a continuum of learning, which they have earned through through their effort and performance. When they are ready to move to the next belt– the next level- they demonstrate their mastery of forms, fundamentals and fighting techniques that are required for promotion. Some students move faster than others. But most are motivated to test and advance toward the highest possible level– the black belt. The role of the teacher in this system, is to differentiate instruction and provide each individual student with the knowledge, skills and support they need to make continuous progress.

If our schools were organized like the schools in Tae Kwon Do, our students would not be grouped by their age. Their age would be irrelevant. Instead we would ask: What have they learned? What are they ready to learn next? How can teachers accelerate students and provide authentic opportunities for them to achieve mastery?

The grade level system that we inherited from the Industrial Revolution has been in place for nearly 150 years. There have been plenty of studies to challenge the wisdom of grouping kids by age rather than achievement. Those studies are often used to provide a rationale for multiage and ungraded classrooms. And while there may have been some momentum behind the transition to multiage classrooms in the previous three decades, that momentum has dissipated mightily in this era of accountability. Too bad.  

In California (and, I suspect, in your state, too) the year-end, summative assessments are designed to be administered to children according to their grade. Our data comes back organized by grade level trends. We learn that 61% of our 5th graders scored at grade level in math while 46% of our English learners in 3rd grade were proficient in language arts. You can compare our 6th graders with your 6th graders and this years’ 7th graders with how they performed as 5th graders. It all tells us something but I wonder if our kids are really learning to the extent that they are capable of learning.  

At the end of this school year we will promote a few hundred kids to the next grade level even though they haven’t demonstrated mastery of their current grade level. We will  promote them because it is June and all their classmates are being promoted and the research on retention is so daunting that it forces us to choose our poison. In Tae Kwon Do if you promote a student who has not mastered the competencies of the curriculum, they will be thrown in with advanced students with whom they can not compete. One day they will catch a flying heel kick on the side of the head and it will remind them that earning a black belt is not a race.

We flirted, just for a moment, with the idea of grouping our K-8 school of 1000 students by their academic proficiency level instead of their age. We are a charter school so we can do it if we want to. We use MAPS for formative assessments and have a high degree of confidence in its alignment with California’s content standards. We’d get them grouped right. And every student would be instantly at grade level because they would be at the grade level that they are ready to master next. There would be multiple age groups in a classroom but the curriculum standards wouldn’t change. We differentiate instruction anyway… so children would still be treated as individuals.  

Then we realized that if 100% of our students were suddenly at grade level, there would be no need for the threats and sanctions of NCLB. We would never miss AYP target goals. Our Academic Performance Index would be the highest in the state. There would be some logistical challenges but none as formidable as the challenge of convincing the state of California that we were not just gaming the system. So we decided against it. We still have our students out in classrooms according to their age. And though thousands of new schools will fall into Program Improvement each year as the AYP threshold rises, we will keep forcing the grade level system that makes little sense when it comes to teaching or learning. Or testing. 

Innovations, like revolutions, are often inspired by the desperate needs of organizations that can no longer thrive in antiquated systems. Assuming that the provisions of NCLB remain unchanged, should we continue to force schools to fit a timeline of achievement… or use that timeline as the motivation for fundamental change in how we organize our schools?  

And here is an Epilogue (of sorts):

I broke a bunch of boards when I tested for my black belt.  By the end of the day my hands were swollen and I needed some ice.  In Tae Kwon Do there are no social promotions.


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An article by Iris C. Rotberg, a research professor of education policy at George Washington University, in Washington, appears in the June 11 edition of Education Week.  It is entitled–  “Quick Fixes, Test Scores, and the Global Economy: Myths That Continue to Confound Us”.

 In part it states:  

Our policy deliberations are dominated by a belief that we can cure our educational problems if only we can find a magic bullet—“scientifically proven” teaching methods, school choice, increased student testing. If we succeed, our students will rank higher on international test-score comparisons, which, in turn, will enable the United States to compete in the global economy. These beliefs are based on a set of loosely coupled myths about U.S. education. The myths form the basis for much of our rhetoric and many of our policies.

The first of these myths is that we can “fix” our schools without addressing the problems of poverty. We can’t. The achievement gap based on family socioeconomic status is the most significant problem in all countries, and accounts for about three-quarters of the variation in student performance among schools in the United States.


And I thought…

75% of the children at my school qualify for free or reduced lunch. We serve a community of the working poor. We are on the border to Mexico. We consider ourselves to be the most innovative school in America: a bold, independent, autonomous charter school that refuses all efforts from external agencies to defines us. We have created our own brand. We have never missed a single NCLB-AYP goal and have gained over 240 points on California’s Academic Performance Index… PRECISELY because we refuse to try and raise our test scores. We are in the business of raising children.     

We have shouted from the rooftops that you can not improve public schools by 1) calling them names (i.e. “Program Improvement”), 2) ignoring schools that excel even in the face of daunting economic challenges, 3) stripping critical thinking, problem solving, creative writing, the arts, joy, or dancing from the curriculum to make room for the short-sighted, publisher-driven, “fundamentalist” agenda that is myopically constructed on the pillars of math and reading.

And you cannot improve public schools if you try to do so in isolation from the complex social problems that inevitably creep onto our campuses and into our daily work: unemployment, health care, social services, recreation, mental health, lead paint, and drugs and gang violence and childhood obesity and poor nutrition and crime and homelessness. And while it has been an effective strategy for federal and state legislators to accuse educators of MAKING EXCUSES when we point these circumstances out… it doesn’t absolve them from their moral and legal responsibility to create public policy that serves American children as zealously as their policies that favor…say… wealthy adults. And we should hold them accountable for that. And identify those politicians and lawmakers who fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress in this endeavor, place them on improvement plans, call them names like “Program Improvement Governmental Agency”, and ultimately replace them with individuals who are committed to the welfare of American children and who refuse to allow a single one to be left hungry or homeless or isolated or lacking in health care. Or behind.

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