Our Mascots

Our Mascots
These are the happy people

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Political Fire Prevention

Oophs, who didn't know that it was impossible to get all the children in our country on grade level by 2014.  I, for one, was just thrilled at the notion.  It was going to be a miracle and I would be there.  Of course, any school that was not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward that goal would be labeled a failing school.  The school systems that back loaded the expectations for big gains closer to the goal line were banking on either miracles happening or the political weight of all those failing schools crushing the life out of the goal.  And the latter is just what has happened.

Secretary Duncan has recently said that "the current law drives down standards, weakens accountability, causes narrowing of the curriculum and labels too many schools as failing."  It is that last one that has caught the attention of governors around the country.  These people need to run for office and they can't do it on a record of failing schools.

So now as the deadline is practically here, school systems may ask for and be granted a waiver.  Basically the requirement for the waiver is simply that school systems come up with another plan to close the gap between high and low achievers in the system.  What people have seemed to come up with is blaming the teachers.

Now teachers will be evaluated on how well their students do on tests.  Get ready for people to be REALLY surprised when 1) the curriculum continues to narrow as teachers of tested subjects just emphasize the test content and 2) become increasingly unhappy in their jobs.  Oh and the instances of cheating of both students and teachers will increase.  That will surprise people too.

The problem is not the we are all going to achieve goal, nor the quality of our teachers.  The problem is using standardized tests to measure learning.  It really is simple.  We do not all need to learn the same stuff.  We do not all learn any stuff in the same way.  And we do not learn any stuff at the same rate.  If we could just admit that universal truth, we might have a prayer of providing an appropriate education for all of our children.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stress not required

With all the new pressures of measuring teacher's competence it is no wonder that stress is at an all time high among teachers.  Race to the top winners have been required to partially evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students.  This new demand can only add to the already stressful job of being in the classroom in today's atmosphere where student parents often do not support teachers.

There are things that a teacher can do to reduce the stress.  First of all manage your life and your health.  That means eating properly and at regular intervals.  Start with a healthy breakfast that is not primarily sugar and caffeine.  Donuts and coffee are one of the worst breakfast choices.  So is skipping breakfast and just having the coffee.  Breakfast may include a wake up cup of coffee but it should also include a healthy abundance of some good protein and fiber.  A decent breakfast will arm you for the day.

You can't change other people you can only change yourself.  So if a student or co-worker or supervisor is creating stress, put that person in perspective.  How much will this matter tomorrow or next week or next month.  Don't take anything too seriously.  The old saying about death and taxes is true.  My grandmother used to say "this too shall pass" and she was 100% correct.

Even No Child Left Behind will get amended and be changed.  Of course, it will leave a lot of stress in its wake but it will still be gone.  So keep that in perspective.  Another thing to realize is that since merit pay isn't coming in anytime soon, what real difference does a bad evaluation make.  The way things are now you pay is determined by how long you have been teaching not by how well you do the job whether that decision is based on test scores or your student's ability to learn.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why are kids dropping out of school?

Two big newspaper stories were very intriguing of late.  One discussed the number of students who had been suspended and how that was keeping children from learning.  One follower of the obvious is more school of thought suggested that students who missed school were not there to learn!  Brilliant commentary.  Most of the comments were about whether or not students should be suspended at all and if they were for what offenses.  The question of zero tolerance for misbehavior was reviewed.  Some people noted that children who were frequently suspended were more likely to drop out of school.  Seems kids that are suspended a lot not only miss learning opportunities but they also lose a connection with the school.  Makes you wonder how much research that took to figure out and who paid the bill for it.

While it is interesting to speculate on whether or not suspension helps with discipline, it is a whole other issue to consider WHY kids do the behaviors that cause them to be suspended in the first place.  The vast majority of children who are suspended are also not successful in academic subjects.   Children usually being people of relatively good mental health would rather be bad than dumb.  Why?  The answer is simple kids who misbehave in school are often seen as brave by their contemporaries who would not do such things.  Kids who do poorly in academics are thought of as being dumb by their peers.  So the average kid would rather be thought of as brave and tough as opposed to being dumb.  Also when you misbehave you draw the fire away from the teacher noticing that you are not doing the academic work because she is too busy trying to reestablish the class order.

Another issue that is getting a lot of ink right now is the issue of bullying.  So far this year 25% of the kids who are bullied are kids with special needs.  They are vulnerable and make a handy target.  They often lack the skills to fight back either verbally or physically.  And many children with disabilities have characteristics that are atypical, they look different, talk different or just don't catch on to stuff.  The other surprising statistic is that 28% of the bullies are themselves disabled.  They bully the kids they perceive as being the next notch down in the pecking order.  Kids bully other kids because grown ups don't intervene strongly enough, parents don't stress character development and because the bully gets to be on a higher rung of the ladder than the person being bullied.

I suggest that the root cause of both problems is the same thing.  No Child Left Behind has left every child behind when it comes to individual programing.  In order to ensure the highest test scores possible so that your school/class is not a failing school the so called "soft" courses are being cut left and right.  Those art, phys ed, music and other so-called non-academic courses have been scrapped to make way for more instruction in reading and math.  And to make sure that kids are exposed (and believe me it is exposure and not instruction) to all the content that will be tested, school systems have instituted pacing guides so every day teachers need to be on specific pages in the curriculum guide.  Ready or not, the teacher turns the page every day.  Smart kids have to slow down and wait, slower kids have to race to try to keep up and frequently they don't.  So kids who needed that extended instruction to catch on, or perhaps an alternative method of instruction, have now turned into the dumb kids who can't keep up or can't learn the lesson.

It doesn't take very long to go from that spot to misbehaving and/or bullying.  Both behaviors serve a similar purpose for the perpetrator.  If I am bad enough people might not notice I can't do the school work.  Or if I bully someone else it makes me feel that I may not be good at school work but at least I am  "bigger" than the kid I am bullying.

We would all be a great deal better off if we just taught kids they way they learn best and not worry if the calendar says we should be on page 156 if a child is back at page 98.

Sunday, January 8, 2012