Thursday, July 30, 2015

How ridiculous can this testing get?

The latest horror story around testing is that of a principal in New York City who committed suicide by jumping in front of a subway train.   The back story is that she was distraught over having falsified some test scores of her third grade students.

Last April the Common Core exams were given at the 49-year old Harlem principal's school.  Many third graders did not finish on time.  The principal concerned because she had promised parents that the kids would do well fudged answers on the tests of numerous students who could not finish the test on time.   Then she confided that sin to someone other than her clergy.  The person to whom she confided the violation filed a complaint with the Board of Education.  An investigation by the Board substantiated the allegation made by the complainant.  The investigation into the complaint was reported in the New York Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and picked up by the Associated Press.   REALLY!!!

Surely this is such an important issue that these highly respected news media needed to cover this terrible discretion.   Tongue firmly planted in cheek here.   The same day the complaint was made the principal threw herself into the path of an oncoming subway train.  The death was ruled a suicide by the city medical examiner.   The superintendent has sent letters to all 3rd grade parents saying that the exams had been tossed due to the investigation.  "The integrity of the assessment was compromised due to actions outside your child's control" the letter read in part.   Evidently the level of anxiety among some educators in the city caused some educators to walk out and refuse to participate in the administration of the testing.

Prior to this situation, the principal had posted on her college profile that this was a chance for her to build the school of her dreams.  Her husband has said she got great joy and pleasure from her students.

What are we doing???   It is not clear if this woman had other mental health issues.  What is clear from parental reaction to her death is that she was well loved by parents and students.  How large a factor was this testing event in her suicide, not clear.   But it certainly had some part in pushing her to this awful action.  People these are artificial assessments of a child's future success. In 10 years they will be meaningless to everyone.  They may not even exist in 10 years.  We are giving them a level of importance that they do not deserve.  We know they stir anxiety in kids and staff, make some kids ill, push other kids to lower self-esteem, and now have played a role in someone's death.  Enough- let's get rid of the things.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Better Late Than Never-Maybe Not

No Child Left Behind expired seven years ago. It has continued to be enforced although major exceptions and allowances by the Feds have pretty much chipped away at its most offensive aspects.
Finally the Congress has decided to address the issue. But since this is our current Congress, its first issue was to address image over substance. No Child Left Behind has a terrible branding problem. There have been lots of jokes from the beginning.  No Child With A Behind to reflect the huge testing requirements.  No Teacher With A Behind to acknowledge the adequate yearly progress expectations for all kids but especially for several sub-groups such as children at risk, minority groups, children with disabilities and those who speak English as a second language.  One of the first bits of foolishness to go was the promise that all students would be on grade level by 2014. I for one was waiting to celebrate the miracle that never came.
The Senate and the House have approached the branding issue separately. The Senate has the Every Child Achieves Act (SB1177).  The House is working on HR 5, Student Success Act.  Both bills
leave in the heavy testing obligations. We still think testing equals accountability.  However there is considerable flexibility on the kind of test. There are also few to no consequences from the Feds for bad testing results.
The Senate bill does require federal monitoring and reporting by states, the House bill not so much. Most important to the President is that neither bill identifies the sub groups for special monitoring. An amendment in the Senate that would have done that has failed.
What is really interesting is that while 37 civil rights and education organizations supported the amendment, the National Education Association, essentially the teachers union, did not support the amendment. Exposing yet again the myth that the Association values the education of children when it clearly is all about protecting the backs and benefits of teachers.
The President has said he could support the Senate Bill but not the House version.
And to add to the stew, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the requirement in many states that all teachers must pay a union service fee if they choose not to be a member. A victory by the plaintiffs would seriously weaken the NEA, but that is a blog for another day.
The fight to re-establish a national education bill is far from over and far from resolution.
Yet come this fall teachers and kids will go back to school and continue to muddle through, some on grade level, some below and others above.  Makes you wonder why we are spending all that money on Congress.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cowboy Bob is Watching

Texas has decided to allow cameras in self-contained classrooms for children with special needs. Any parent,student or teacher can request the cameras be installed. The bigger question is why only in self-contained rooms. Let's face it a child with special needs is much more likely to be abused in a general education classroom where plain kids an frequently see a ready target. The other issue is why assume that special education teachers in self-contained classrooms are more likely to abuse kids than are special education teachers who are co-teaching with general education teachers.
There is also the issue of the privacy of the rest of the students in the classroom. Suppose I request a camera in my child's classroom because I am concerned that my child is being bullied. How does that camera only watch my child and the child that I believe is bullying my child. Now all the other students no longer have the privacy of their classroom.
Teachers should have the expectation of privacy too.
Perhaps we are carrying this voyeurism too far. The next thing you know students and teachers may be spending so much time videoing each other with cell phones there will be little time to learn. It is about time we had some level of trust in the people who are in our classrooms because there aren't enough cameras or time in the day to watch all that video
Texas has always been a state with its sights firmly set to the rear. Looks like they are at it again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Is that death knell for a union near you?

The Supreme Court has served notice that it will take up a case that threatens the ability of government employee unions to have dues checkoffs for everyone.   In many states, including California, all teachers must either belong to the union or pay a service fee that is equal to full dues minus the amount spent by the union for political activity.   Teachers have no choice, it is either full membership or the service fee.  A group of teachers from California are challenging this rule.  Their position is that all union activities are political in some manner; and therefore, they should not have support political activity they do not approve of.  The union's position is that all teachers benefit from the rewards it negotiates; so all teachers should pay to support it.  Teachers say their First Amendment rights are being violated.
Thirty-eight years ago the Court ruled that unions can require non-members to pay for collective bargaining costs so long as the fees don't go toward political activities and the unions are the lawful negotiating arm of the government workers.
Court watchers think next year could be the session when this decision is changed.  The Court is more conservative now and there is less national support for unions.
From my perspective, I would be delighted to see unions weakened.  If they lose the dues checkoff and service fees, many teachers may choose not to join.  Many join now because the service fees are almost as much as the full dues.  In my view there was a time when education unions served a real purpose.  Initially they functioned more like professional organizations and were a value to the profession.  Now they are clearly operating like a blue collar union.  The positions taken by the unions are almost always for the health and welfare of the teachers.  If they were a professional organization, their concerns would also include the children they serve.  But they don't.
Wonderful teachers need to be paid well.  Average teachers need to be paid a decent wage and lousy teachers should be paid not at all.  That can't happen with the unions in charge.   All teachers, the good, the bad and the ugly- get paid the same salary if they have the same experience and education.  Good teachers work very hard and they deserve merit pay for that hard work.  Unions support mediocrity and our kids deserve a lot better than that.