Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Speak UP

One of the major functions of the Common Core and the assessments that have followed those standards is to prepare students for college and career readiness.   Evidently the creators of the Common Core (mostly college professors) have not spent much time lately in the competitive workplace.   If they had they would have learned a few things.
When surveyed, 96% of private workplace employers say that the most important traits they look for in new employees is the ability to communicate in writing and in the spoken word.  They also look for people who can argue various points of view.
The problem is being able to express one's viewpoint through the spoken word is a skill that needs to be taught in a manner similar to learning to communicate through the written word.  Yet there is little to no time in school today to teach students how to present their own viewpoints and how to counter the viewpoints of others.   Then there is the issue of testing.  Unfortunately we teach what is tested.  Since no one is testing spoken language it is not being taught.
What to do?  Well the most obvious first level of attack is to squeeze some time into the school day for class discussion.  That means teachers talk less and students talk more.  This shift will not be easy to achieve.  One of the traits of teachers is that they are talkers and they like to hear themselves talk. They also like to help others so in  class discussion if there is a void, teachers will rush to fill it.  And very quickly students will learn that if they say little to nothing the teacher will jump into the breach and explain to them what they should be thinking.
All of this is very bad for learning to speak and express oneself verbally.  Teachers need to learn to ask questions such as: Can you tell me more about that?   Do you think everyone would agree with that opinion?  What other opinions might there be about that question?
Classes need to have discussions about topics for which there is no right answer and/or no pre-determined right answer.   It is not a discussion if yesterday we learned the causes of WWI and today student recite those causes during a period that is masquerading as a discussion.

Learning to speak and express views through spoken language is particularly important for kids with disabilities.  Very often their verbal language skills far exceed their spoken ones so those spoken skills need to be honed.  As educators we need to shut up more and have our students speak up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't make a good person go bad!

A long time ago there was a public service announcement that showed a car with the keys in the ignition and a boy looking in and then stealing the car.  The voice over said, "take your keys, don't make a good boy go bad.".   At the time my thought was, a good boy would not steal the car, keys or not.  And I questioned why the driver was to blame for the boy's lack of character.

Now comes high stakes testing.  And the question is, does high stakes testing make good people go bad?   Have we created a new criminal class with high stakes testing?

A court case is finally wrapping up in Atlanta Georgia.  It is one of the longest running criminal cases in Georgia history.  The crime is that 12 teachers and school administrators are accused of cheating on the Georgia State tests.  Since multiple educators have participated, the prosecutor has chosen to try them on charges of criminal conspiracy.   Other educators have turned state's witness and received a deal in sentencing and have agreed to testify against the others.  Because of the charge against the teachers they could receive as much as twenty years!!   Really!  Have they no rapists in Georgia, have they no murderers?  Why would a criminal justice system spend this much energy on test cheaters?   Makes one wonder if this will become a new class of felons.  All those educators going bad.

Don't believe me.  Look at what is happening in New Jersey and Maryland.  In those states, students have posted test questions from the PARCC tests on Twitter and Instagram.  There are great opportunities for these postings to go national since they are posted on social media.  In the past, when kids copied questions from paper tests the spread was rather limited.  But these tests are online so it is not difficult for the tech savvy kids to scan/copy and post. It is not just kids down the school hallway who will get the questions but across the country as well.   How do we know the kids are doing this?  Well it turns out that Pearson, the company that is selling the PARCC tests, scans the internet for this type of behavior.  The company is able to not only find the posting but pinpoint the location of the postings and the names of the students who have done this.  Parents are complaining that the free speech of their children is being monitored by a for-profit company.  Discussions  about the consequences for these students range from criminal prosecution for copyright violation to school suspension.  Maybe these kids will have a felony record before they get out of school.  They can be the first of this new class of felons.  Is testing making these kids go bad?

The Maryland legislature has just passed a bill that if agreed to by a joint conference would require the state to investigate whether or not Maryland should continue to require these tests.  We already know that these tests do not improve the educational product; we have a thirty-year record to show that.  Now it seems they are producing a new criminal class.  Does testing make a good person go bad?   Or was the person a cheat from the beginning?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Testing Doesn't Cure Ignorance

The U.S. has had standardized testing for thirty years. Still our nation is plagued by ignorance. Let's start with the recent adventures of the SAE fraternity. First there was the good old white boy songs on the bus. Some of those white boys were even on the back of the bus. Now these were students at the University of Oklahoma. One would guess they had passed a few tests to get into that school.  But those passing tests didn't seem to prevent them from being ignorant as a do do bird. The National office of the fraternity could not imagine what came over the boys in this clearly errant chapter. Yet more chapters kept popping up with similar transgressions. Testing sure didn't cure this ignorance.

Then there are those pesky parking signs that attempt to reserve parking spaces for people with physical disabilities. Those are for people with physical disabilities but did you ever notice how many  folks with character disabilities like insensitivity and entitlement park there. It takes a person who uses a wheelchair seven to ten minutes to get that chair out of the car and functional. When a person uses a wheelchair for mobility there is no "jumping " in the car and just running to the store for milk, toilet tissue and bread when snow has been forecast. Those more physically abled people probably passed a lot of tests.  The testing didn't cure them of their ignorance.

Starbucks and USA Today are trying to get people to talk about why we can't get along in a program called Race Together. If you get a Starbucks coffee you could see that written on your cup. The idea is to get people to talk to each other. They want people to hear the other person's story. Maybe even go into each other's home. No testing, just talking. Maybe that will help.

We surely know testing doesn't cure ignorance, maybe talking together will.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What if people took responsibility ....

What if people took responsibility and acted to stop the things they rail against.  Some examples.

A wonderfully written letter by a teacher apologizing to her students for having to inflict the state testing on them is making its rounds through social media.   The letter is beautiful and it is being hailed by so many people as an example of their feelings as well.  However, one cannot help but ask, why does this teacher apologize and then continue to exhibit the behavior for which she is apologizing.  Oh don't get me wrong, I know the story.  The teacher would be fired if she refused to be complicit in this testing experience.  REALLY? Does anyone know just how hard it is to fire a teacher?   Besides, what about all those other teachers in that school and other schools who also think this testing is bad for kids.  What if those teachers said, our first responsibility is to our students and we won't cooperate in doing something that we believe will hurt them.   Would/Could the system fire all of those teachers?   Not likely, but it is just easier to complain, blame the system but not do the dirty work of refusing to do something you think is wrong.

What if parents returned to the roles of parenting instead of friending their kids.   Parents complain that they don't like the testing, but they do not keep their kids home from school on test days.  Parents think the clothing that their kids wear is awful.  Do the children have credit cards?  Parents will respond that these clothes are the only ones their children will buy and that "all" the kids are wearing them.  Well as my mother used to say, "if all the kids are jumping off the bridge, would you jump off too?".  And the kids aren't buying the clothes, it is the parents who are paying for them.   Why not just say I will buy this but not that, you decide.  I hear parents of teenagers complain that they have no control.  They probably don't.  The time to have established control was when the child was young, trainable and controllable.  Kids have parents for a reason.   Teenage brains are still in the process of forming and growing.  They literally do NOT have good sense yet.  So parents need to substitute the mature sense of the adult for the formulating sense of the child.  That takes courage because there will be push back from the child.  As always it is easier to go along rather than to buck the tide.  But what would happen if parents took responsibility for being parents.  I think the kids would like that too.  It gives them security.

What if black men took responsibility for the boys of their race.   Recently the mayor of Baltimore, herself African American, called out black men in particular for black on black murder.   She noted that 90% of the murders in Baltimore for 2014 were black men killing other black men and in some cases boys killing boys.  She commented on how quickly the public, and African Americans are all over the police when there is a police shooting.  She, in no way condoned that, but she rightfully noted that there was only a silent accepting response to "us killing us".   What if people said this is enough.  If black lives matter, and they do, why does it only matter when those lives are taken by police officers and not when they are taken by other African Americans.  Who is really cheapening those lives?

It is ever so much easier to blame "them" for whatever is wrong in our society.  "They" make me give these tests that are bad for my kids.  "They" require my children to wear clothing that is not appropriate.  "They" are taking black lives.   If WE started taking responsibility, maybe THEY wouldn't have so much control and WE wouldn't have so much to complain about.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

NCLB the Emperor of all Maladies

NCLB- the education legislation that was going to save the country.   Thirty years later the USA is no further ahead of other first world nations than it was when the bill was signed into law!  We still rank around 23rd.

No Child Left Behind was to ensure that all children were at grade level by 2014.   Even the Congressional Department of Legislative Services has stated that wasn't going to happen and there have been enough waivers given that no one is even asking anymore.

One of the major requirements of NCLB is that students would be tested every year in grades 3-8 and then one time in math, English and science during high school.   The high school tests would be high stakes, so if a student did not pass, he or she would not graduate.  NCLB expired a few years ago but it has stayed in effect pending renewal.   The Republican House was going to take up the issue this term.   And with the Obama administration's Race to the Top, student test scores are also being used to evaluate teachers

So where are we now.  Teachers' unions in several states are going to court to fight the tie-in of test scores to teacher evaluations.   In New Mexico, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and New York cases are already in the courts.  This movement is spreading all over the country not just in one segment.

Resistance to the testing consortia that have developed to create testing for the Common Core State Standards is also growing.   The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) started with 27 states and the District of Columbia is now down to 11 states and DC.  New York, New Jersey and Colorado are the latest states to opt out of Common Core testing.   Parents are protesting the amount of time spent on test preparation and testing itself.  The PARCC tests consume DAYS of school to get the testing done.   Many teachers are thinking that computer skills necessary to take the test, as well as the technology itself, will interfere with any true evaluation of knowledge on the part of kids.

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, has been all over the map on his department's approach to testing.   In the current political world of "if you are for it, I am against it", Secretary Duncan has criticized the Republican draft of NCLB because it does not cut back on testing requirements.   This view must be a new enlightenment for the Secretary.  This past month both the President and the Secretary have advocated cutting testing down to the bare minimum.   Yet if we go back prior to June 2014, there is very strong support for testing and the spending of 360 minion dollars to craft those tests.

Bottom line: We cannot test our way into good education for our children.   Kids' learning starts with good teaching.  We need to spend our money on teacher training, high quality school staffing, and developing ways to rid our schools of incompetent professionals.  And while we are getting rid of stuff that is counterproductive, lets just dump No Child Left Behind, it never did have any clothes worth wearing.