Tuesday, September 29, 2015

John Boehner and the SAT's

What on earth does John Boehner have to do with the SAT’s?  Well not so much and a great deal. Boehner’s decision to resign from Congress and from his position as Speaker may have lessened the chances of a government shutdown but it has increased the chance that the very fragile compromise to the new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may not make it out of committee.   The House Freedom Caucus of very conservative members wants the federal role in education to be totally removed.  Any bill will need to satisfy the Senate, the President as well as enough House members to get it passed.    Problem is the Senate, the President and many House members want to keep in the annual mandated testing to maintain “standards”.  The compromise bill that is in the works shifts a significant amount of responsibility to states and local districts, but it maintains the annual testing.   The original NCLB not only required the annual testing but also promised on grade proficiency in reading and math by 2014.  When folks came down from whatever they were smoking when they thought that would happen, the feds started issuing waivers fast and furiously.   However, for the majority of legislators the annual testing still seems to be very important as a measure of maintaining standards.
So where are the SAT’s in all this?  Simple.  While our esteemed members of Congress are still beating the drum for testing, colleges and universities are moving away from the idea that the SAT and ACT scores predict who should enter post-secondary education and who should not.  In recent years hundreds of higher ed schools are saying these tests are optional.  Recently Hampshire College in Massachusetts has flat out said they won’t accept them at all.  In fact, Hampshire College has said people just teach to the test and the tests do not measure evidence of curiosity, learning across disciplines or simply flat out bad test takers.  Goucher College in Baltimore has started allowing a video application.  So as more and more higher ed facilities are saying tests aren’t predictable of success and are moving away from them, the United States Congress is just hanging on to what is clearly a tool that has lost its usefulness.

Does a heart good to know that our leadership people in Washington are running hard to keep up with the rear of the best thinking in education.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Revolutionary Idea!

Kids should like coming to school.   Now there’s a revolutionary concept.   All kids should like coming to school.   There should be something for everyone.  The academically smart kids will love to show off just how quickly they can learn.   The children who excel in the arts- visual and performing- should have a place to display that talent and learn to perfect it.  The skills will open their lives and their spirits.  The students with athletic ability should be taught to work as a team player and as an individual star.   These skills will be vital in the work place.

Some children hate school.  Why is that?   Easy answer.   For far too many children school is a place where they are beaten down.  Where their failures are put on display for all to see.  I remember a teacher who punished poor students by requiring they read aloud in class so they were embarrassed into submission.   What a barbarian thing to do?!  We would never do that.   But we do, when we test kids into submission.   Children with academic challenges know full well that tests show how much they DON’T know, not how much they do know.  Yet we keep rubbing their collective brains into the test.

School should be a place where kids are reinforced for their abilities.   It should be a place where each child gets to shine in some portion of the school day.  Imagine as an adult, that you had to go to a workplace every day.  At this workplace you were constantly reminded of your shortcomings.  This was a job that carried a 12-year sentence and you could not quit.  You were surrounded by bosses who could embarrass you again and again- and you could not quit.

School can be a place of learning and a place of fun.  Raising standards does not mean punishing children or teachers.   Raising standards should mean raising the number of kids who are challenged by learning.   Raising standards should mean raising a student’s achievement by starting where that child is right now and not where we think he or she should be.  Just think how much more kids could learn if they actually enjoyed the process in an emotionally and physically safe place.   Kids should like coming to school.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

Let’s pretend that you have been offered a job with a company that has lots of branch offices.   You can pick one of two cities for your home base.  You have two children so the school situation is important to you.

City I has a great school system.   The classes are a bit large but are very structured.  On any given day the teacher can tell you what the kids will be doing.  There is a mix of kids in the class.  Some are very high achievers and others not so much.  Of course, there are the average kids as well.  The teacher sticks to this middle ground.  There is a huge emphasis on preparation for college. It is the hope that all students will go to college.  Testing is done frequently so that student progress can be measured and standards met.  Teachers are evaluated on how well the kids do on the tests.  High test scores equal good teaching; low scores equal bad teaching.

City S also has a great school system but a very different philosophy.  In City S the classes are a lot smaller.  The teacher can’t tell you where she will be in the curriculum until pretty close to the time she gets there.   The pacing in City S is based on how well the kids are learning.  It is also true that some of the children may be well ahead of the others, so there really isn’t a lock step march through the content.   In City S it is important for some of the students to go to college; but it is just as important for others to get vocational training and go into careers that demand other skills which do not require a college education.  Tests are given in City S, although not as frequently as in City I; but the purpose is neither to grade the students or the teachers.   In City S the purpose of the testing is for the teacher and students to check in on progress and as a guide for what needs to be retaught.

So which city do you choose for your kids and your next job?  You might have guessed by now that City I runs on the full-inclusion, standards curriculum.   City S is a special education model.  Right now the common wisdom is that the City I model is best for everyone.  Personally I think the common wisdom is bass ackwards.   As for me, I am moving to City S where every child gets what he/she needs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cold hearted- maybe

It all started with a simple response to a Facebook video post from a friend of mine.   The video showed a high school basketball team and its manager who has autism.   The team manager was doing a great job and the video made it clear that the team was performing a charitable act by having the boy as the manager.  The team was so thrilled by the manger’s performance that they allowed him to suit up in the team uniform for practice before the team’s last game.  In the video the boy is shown making not 1, not 2 but 3 3-point baskets.   Yet he was not a member of the team, even though he showed the ability to shoot a 3-pointer.

Responses to the video were what you would expect.  People wrote of how heartwarming the experience was for all concerned.  Some even commented on having misty eyes as a result of watching it.  My reaction was completely different.   OK, I should have kept my fingers in my lap.  But I just could not do that.   I HATE it when kids with disabilities become someone else’s charity.

So I wrote a response that people should not patronize people with disabilities.  Making a kid a manger just because  he has a disability is insulting and disrespectful.  I believe that people with disabilities also have many abilities.  They should be able to compete using those abilities or not make the team or whatever else it is they are trying to do.  Clearly this boy had some basketball ability.  He could have played JV if he weren’t good enough for varsity.  At least it would have been honest achievement.

I got a ton of responses and everyone rejected my position.  No I am not opposed to Special Olympics.  Those kids compete on a level playing field.  They are talented athletes.   I am also strongly in favor of people with disabilities being able to try out against their non-disabled peers for other school teams.  Personally I would not want someone to be nice to me as an act of charity.  Like me or don’t like me for whom I am not because you see it as your ticket to heaven.  Does that make me cold hearted?  Perhaps.  It also makes me someone who respects people (including young people) for the skills that they do have.  It also makes me someone who does not define a person by his/her disability label. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time the citizen of the states united were upset because their children were not learning.   They found out in 1976 that Johnny could not read because he (and she) didn’t know phonics.   Then they found out in 1987 that Johnny still couldn’t read.  Finally a miracle was upon them and a law was passed throughout the land that hence forth, ok by 2014, no child would be left behind.  And every child would be on grade level by 2014.  To make sure that would happen, every child would be tested every year and any state that didn’t make the grade would be called out and not making adequate progress.  This notion would be called the Standards Movement. That would be VERY bad.  Some state leaders thought it might be good to dumb down the tests.  Other state leaders thought they should just take their sweet time ramping up the tests until 2014.  Alas and alack, as 2014 approached all realized the miracle was not to be.

In the meantime the various governors dispatched their education ministers to create a level playing field for all students.  Thus continued the standards movement in education.  Everyone is in favor of high standards in education.  The ministers convened and conferred.  Out of this great melding of the minds came the Common Core curriculum.  This curriculum would be very hard; it would improve standards.  As with all standards it needed to be tested.  So two big consortia were formed to create tests for the new curriculum.  Smarter Balance (no it is not margarine) and the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) were formed to create the tests.  PARCC had most of the east coast and Smarter Balance the middle ground.  In the beginning there were 26 states in PARCC.   Now there are 11.  Now the office of education of the states united has said the states can each make up its own tests or use the tests from the consortia.  The original purpose of Common Core was to test all of the children on the same level playing field- oophs too bad.

And it also seems that the citizens of the states united and the many teachers are waking up to the idea that schools are for learning and not just testing.  Recent polls show that the majority of citizens think there is too much testing.   And the Maryland State Education Association has just committed $500,000 for a campaign to reduce testing.  Surely we are imagining all this and imagining the millions and millions of dollars spent developing these tests.  Not to worry, this all happened Once Upon a Time.