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Our Mascots
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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Testing is not an option

Testing is not an option.

There is a family in Frederick County, Maryland that does not want its three children tested on the PARCC assessments.  Their reasons are sufficient for them.   First of all they do not believe the tests measure what their children have learned.  Secondly, their children become very emotionally upset at the prospect of taking the tests and have had meltdowns.  Thirdly, they believe the schools have exceeded their authority by requiring that every child take the tests.  Frederick County said it does not have the authority to exclude children from the testing.  The County schools and the parents appealed to the State Board of Education.   The State Board in essence refused to decide.  The response was that there is not a mechanism for test refusal on the part of children or families.  Of course, this is a non-answer.
Let’s look at the parental concerns.  School systems have instituted pacing guides (another ruination of our children’s education_ to assure that testing time will cover all content.  You will notice the goal is to “cover” the content not to learn it.  As schools move more strongly into Common Core Curriculum, what is covered will more closely resemble what is being tested. 
As to kids becoming emotionally upset during testing, it is my belief that this situation is a reflection of the emotional state of the parents and/or the teachers.
Now to the final reason given.  Does required testing exceed the authority of the school system?  I do not know the answer to that. I would guess it is possible that at some point the courts will decided.  But we have been mass testing kids for a very long time. But I do know that since we allow parents veto power over the books their kids will read, and veto power over certain curricular elements, why can’t they have veto power over testing?
There is another family in Frederick County that has a severely disabled daughter.   Her disability is not sufficient to be exempted from the testing.  The lowest 2% of disabled children may be exempted.   However, the parents say that their child cannot read yet she is being tested on a test that requires reading.   To do this clearly makes a farce of the whole procedure.
Across the country families and their children are upset with the amount of time spent on testing and on testing preparation. One of the large issues today is the high stakes of these tests.  We are not just collecting data we are evaluating teachers, principals and whole school systems based on the results. Are these tests valid enough to have that kind of consequence?  Just because we have the capacity to measure something does not mean we need to use up children’s education time to do so.

During the days of the draft, there was a process called conscientious objection, whereby a citizen could opt out of military service because of deeply held beliefs. Maybe it is time to let children, families and school systems conscientiously object to all this testing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What did you learn in school today?

What did you learn in school today?

Many times we ask children a variation of this question.   Sometimes we ask: what did you do in school today.  Far too frequently the answer is “nothing”.  There is, of course, a wide range of reasons for this answer.  The most obvious is that the child in fact did not learn anything or at least not anything that she can articulate.  Or the truth might be that what was done or learned just takes too much energy to talk about so he won’t.  The really sad truth is that much of what she learned in school today is pretty useless for tomorrow.  And that is what is so scary because the stakes are so high.

I think it is a condition of the human nature that when we don’t know what to do about something we look for concrete measurements to make us think we are progressing or not.  And so in order to improve education we started to measure everything with tests.  We know based on incoming college freshmen testing that these young adults are no better prepared for college today than they were before all the testing.

So what should we be teaching kids in schools if not algebra II?  First of all, most of today’s students will wind up in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.  So any notion of preparing children for specific jobs doesn’t really make sense.  Continually we ignore what employers tell us they need in good employees whether we are talking about retail sales, health care, cyber sleuthing or space travel.   We need people who can solve problems.  Doesn’t matter what kind of problem.  Does the person have a strategy for solving any problem?  As in define the problem, identify the information needed, know how to find the missing information, make an informed decision after weighing all the consequences that one is aware of at this time. 

Humans need to learn self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.  Yet how many of these skills do we learn in school.  Not too many because the results can’t be measured by coloring in little bubbles on a scan sheet or clicking on a computer screen button.  These are hugely difficult skills to learn and just as difficult to teach.  Yet their value to us as individuals is so much more important than all the “stuff” we memorize in school.  Think about this, you can’t Google self-awareness.   Oh you can, but the result you get back probably won’t help you when you try to figure out how to lead a fulfilling life.  And the way things are going, you won’t be learning that in school today either.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Children shall lead us

It seems the grown ups are willing to roll over and keep doing more and more standardized testing.   Fortunately some students are starting to "opt out" of the standardized testing.  They are simply refusing to take the tests.   In some schools in Seattle teachers are refusing to cooperate as well.
A parent recently told me that of all the professions he knows, education is the only one that can't seem to make up its mind about how to educate students.
The fact is we DO know what to do.   The basics are fairly simple.   The bad news is that educators do not take the leadership.
First of all, good teaching is measurable, but not by test scores.   Good teaching is measured by looking at student faces during a lesson.   Are they on the teacher and do they look like they are invested.  Good teaching is measured by looking at the teaching activity.  Is it hands on?   Are different students learning in different ways?  Are some kids reading?   Are some doing something with their hands?  Are others on the computer or listening to some audio input.   Is the content itself varied to meet the needs of the kids.
Secondly, learning can be measured without standardized tests and standardized tests don't measure learning.   Different students need to learn different things.   No everyone needs to go to college.   Birds do not need to learn to climb trees, they can fly to the top.  Algebra II is a good skill for those people going into science or math based careers.   The rest of us don't need it so why torture those kids with failure.  Students with mechanical ability should have the chance for learning mechanical and/or engineering skills.   Kids with language abilities should be working on foreign languages and verbal and writing skills.   We make fun of the European system where kids are sorted out into different programs at the start of high school.   They may be on to something.  Of course we need to make sure that lack of opportunity does not consign someone to a non-college program, but we also need to make sure that not all upper socio-economic kids are forced into college.  Students need to learn to problem solve so they can address the issues that are not even here yet.  Knowledge is static, becomes outdated. Problem solving is dynamic and adjusts to the situations at hand.
Thirdly, everyone needs to learn the soft skills of working.   How to respond to supervision, when to ask questions, the importance of showing up and doing a full day's work for a full day's pay.   Everyone, even college bound kids, need to know personal economics so not so many people are overwhelmingly in debt.
A better educational system does not mean more testing and more grading of kids and teachers.  A better educational system means educating students for the world of problem solving and the mundane world of keeping a job and managing one's life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We are stealing childhood

We are stealing our children's childhood.  We have become a society where disputes are solved with violence.   The latest killings in Connecticut have some people calling for gun control.  While others are just as sure that the answer is just more guns until we become an armed camp.  Somehow or other we are told that arming us all is what the framers of our Constitution had in mind in the the 2nd amendment.  the last time I checked the Pentagon is not requesting or demanding that we quarter troops in our homes.
Our children are not safe in a theatre; they are not safe in a mall; they are not safe in their schools.  Even very young children are not safe in their schools.  After every massacre there is weeping and wailing and calls for common sense restriction of firearms.   But not to worry, those silly calls for common sense will quickly die down and we will go back to thinking that violence is the cure for disagreement, feeling upset about our lives or just "because".
The therapists and psychologists will give us scripts to use with our children to make them feel calmer.  We will all get wonderful resources on the web about where to get good advice.   We will tell our children that they are safe.   Children are not stupid.  They know that the people who are supposed to be protecting them cannot do so in the face of madmen.   They know that our society is impotent or at least chooses to be impotent to stop the senseless killings.
Some one will eventually tell us that his latest killer is mentally ill.   It took no stroke of brilliance to figure that one out.  Anyone killing innocent children is hardly the mental health poster child.  There are mentally ill people in other societies as well, but they do not have access to guns the way mentally ill people in our society do.
Guns are for killing, there is no way around that.  We are told they are for protection, but the data tell us that most people who have guns for their own protection wind up using them to kill others.
It is too late for the children of Connecticut, the survivors have already had their childhood stolen.  Life will never again be the same for them.
Return with us now to those days of yesterday year, The Lone Ranger rides again.  But this time it is not a TV show, this time it is developmentally delayed legislators and gun advocates who have a need to return to the wild west where we were all cowboys, only this time the Indians are our children.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Isn't it amazing how the kids are smarter than the adults.  A high school senior has written a book called "One Size Does Not Fit All".  In the book he advocates for project based learning because he says it is a method that recognizes the differences in students but that administrators do not like it because it is "messy".  Indeed it is messy.  But good instruction is messy.  The new Common Core Standards are certainly lofty goals, but they are again a one size fits all.  There is no consideration for the multiple talents of young people.  The assumption is that if we pour more academic learning into students, somehow they will be better.  There are many skills students need to learn in school and we need to wake up and realize that academic achievement is just one of those skills.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The miracle that wasn't

I am just so disappointed.  Here all along I was believing our leaders who assured me that in 2014 all children would be doing reading and math on grade level.  Of course, it was never clear at what point in 2014 that would be- New Year's Eve, start of the school year, end of the school year, but no matter, we would be there.
Now I am told that the various states may have waivers; and thereby, not have to meet this deadline.  I am crushed.  Let me be clear, all along I thought this was an impossible dream, even a foolish one.  But our leaders told me I had little faith and with good teaching this would happen.
It seems that good politics has triumphed over good sense.  Governors were running for re-election.  All  governors want to point to great schools as a point of success.  But with 2014 approaching and the adequate yearly progress scores coming out every year showing more and more failing schools, well schools were not going to be a very good talking point.
Enter the waiver.
Schools can develop plans to overcome the discrepancies between lower socio-economic kids, students at risk, children for whom English is a second language and even those few children who need special ed services.  Of course the outcomes for those plans are not specified so we are sort of back to where we were.  We may just have to acknowledge that some kids don't have the ability to be on grade level, at least not at this time in their lives.
But that acknowledgement is very bad politics, even though it is good common sense.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Making dumb choices

Why do we keep making dumb choices and foolish decisions that are contrary to what we know to be right.  Some examples, all students will be reading at grade level by 2014.  the fact is that all students do not have the capacity to be at grade level, not by 2014 and not by 2054.  Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that.
Another foolish idea.  Everyone should go to college.  Everyone should have the skills necessary to earn a decent living.  that does not equate to everyone going to college.  Some people will use technical skills and work in manufacturing, or the human service sector or the service repair sector- many of these jobs do not require a college education.  Many of the people who do these jobs are very skilled, earn a decent living and do not have the ability to go to college.
There is ample research that tells us that kids with learning challenges need require and benefit from intensive individualized education.  Yet our whole society is pushing full inclusion for the social skills that students with disabilities will supposedly get from plain kids.  First of all, general ed teachers have neither the time nor the skills to teach students with learning challenges.  Second of all, plain kids do not experience themselves as social peers with students with disabilities.  Most of the interactions between plain kids and students with disabilities are either forced by adults or bullying by plain kids.  Students with disabilities seldom get invited by plain to outside social events.  Yet we persist in saying full inclusion is a good idea.
High stakes testing is another naive idea.  We all know some very bright people who are doing well as adults who are terrible test takers.  We also all know people who are good test takers but have little knowledge of the content or the ability to problem solve.  Still we are insisting that everyone takes a test to prove what they know and that teachers be punished with poor ratings for having students who do not do well in the tests.
Dumb ideas make dumb choices