Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Where oh where have all the tests gone?

Where oh Where have all the tests gone?

Lots of people have lots of issues with the Common Core State Standards curriculum.  Turns out so does the President.  But not to worry about that.  The President’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, has repeatedly asserted that Trump will keep his campaign promise to do away with Common Core.
Of course, there are a couple of glitches in that effort.  First of all, Common Core is not a federal program.  Common Core was created by representatives of the individual states which then individually choose to adopt the curriculum or not.  No one at the federal level wrote or participated in the creation of the Common Core so there is nothing to be repealed at the federal level. 
The Common Core is a curriculum.   Therein, creates another problem.  The federal Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) explicity forbids the federal government from imposing curricula on the states.  So while the President may fume and bluster, he does not have the authority by himself to change anything about it.
However, Common Core may be falling under its own weight.  One of the aspects of Common Core is the creation of a test to measure how well students have mastered the curriculum.  Initially almost all of the states had signed on to either Smarter Balanced (I always thought that sounded like a substitute for butter) or PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)   Today there are only 19 states plus the District of Columbia that are still using these assessments.  By contrast, 28 states are using tests they have either designed or purchased for their use.  Three states are using a blend of PARCC or Smarter Balanced. 
ESSA does require the states to use some measure of accountability.  Using the SAT or the ACT is an option under the law and is definitely gaining in acceptance.  First of all, many students need these tests for college admission so it is not an additional test at a time when parents are complaining about the amount of time in school spent on testing rather than instruction.  Secondly, using the ACT and/or the SAT is more relevant to the student’s future.  Currently, 25 states are requiring all students to take these tests.   Twelve of those states are using these tests to meet the ESSA requirements.
Another change is the number of states that are requiring students to pass a high stakes test to receive a high school diploma.  Only twelve states insist on the passing of a high stakes test in order for a student to get a diploma.   The remaining states have menu options to work around a failing grade on the so-called high stakes assessment.
Maybe, just maybe, the standardized testing miracle cure has reached its zenith and is beginning to decline.   Trump may not be able to do anything about Common Core, but perhaps that famous oxymoron common sense will begin to prevail.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hello! Is anyone home?

Hello, Is Anyone Home?

A public high school teacher at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore, County Maryland admitted to propping up his phone to record female cheerleader students change into their uniforms in his room.
Here is what happened.  On January 23, seven teenage girls were in his classroom getting ready to change into their uniforms.  The teacher told the cheerleading coach, another teacher, that the girls could use his room to change and that he would leave the room.  BUT before he did so, he propped up his phone and set it to record the changing process.  One of the girls saw what was happening and grabbed the phone and took it to the cheerleading coach.
Here is where it gets bad and messy.   The cheerleading coach (remember this is another teacher on staff) did nothing about the episode.   HOWEVER, that afternoon one of the girls and her mother went to the Pikesville police station and filed a report against the teacher.  The next day, January 24, detectives interviewed the teacher in question at the school.   The teacher admitted during the interview with the detectives that he had recorded the girls changing in his room on at least two other separate occasions.   The girls have changed at least five times in this classroom.  The teacher is charged with conducting visual surveillance with prurient intent.   If convicted he could face one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.  Detectives found search sites on the teacher’s phone for pornography and cheerleader. 
The BIG question is where is Baltimore County Public Schools in this mess.   We keep getting back to the old Nixon questions.   What did they know and when did they know it?   Did the cheerleading coach and teacher, file a report with the school administration and/or with Child Protective Services as she is required by law to do?   If not, why not and what will be the consequences to her?   If she did, why wasn’t that in the article?   What did the Milford Mill Academy administration do with the information?  The official word from the central administration of the school district is that the system “took immediate and appropriate action”.   If it did, why did it fall to the cheerleader and her mother to press charges before the police got involved?  The spokesman also said that the teacher, with 8 years’ experience, is no longer at Milford Mill.  Where is he?  Is this the dance of the lemons and he has been moved to another unsuspecting school?  Or had he been booted to the central office where the taxpayers continue to pay his salary while he does “make work”.

The great state of Texas doesn’t track teachers who have been charged with or convicted of a crime.  In many cases the information is kept secret and individuals find other jobs in other districts.
Will Baltimore County protect this teacher and will he find other jobs in other school districts and spy on more kids?   How much worse will it get?
The Baltimore County Crimes Against Children unit is investigating and seeking additional information.

Hello Baltimore County Public Schools are you awake and watching out for our kids?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dollar Down & Dollar When you get me

Dollar Down and a Dollar when you get me

Teaching has never been a highly paid profession.   But the benefits have usually been great.  Health care is heavily subsidized by the district.   Retirement is one of the few fixed payment retirement plans left.  But all might not be well in Loveland.
First of all, teachers, like everyone else, are living longer.  That means school districts are paying longer.  In some states, teachers are outliving the retirement funds that have been built up.  Districts are using the funds from new teachers to fund the retirement payouts for older teachers and also trying to figure out ways to cut benefits so there will be funds to pay the new teachers when they get older.
Now there is a new issue on the horizon.   In order to increase incoming funds to pay today’s older teachers and, hopefully, secure funds for the new teachers when they get to retirement, states and school districts have been increasing the amount of money that young teachers contribute to the plan.
The long-term benefit of a defined benefits retirement plan is that eventually the teachers will use up their contributions and start receiving additional money provided by either the state or the younger folk coming behind them.  In order for this all to work as planned, teachers need to stay on the job at least 25 years.   That appears to be the tipping point at which teachers will collect their contributions and then continue to receive the fixed benefit and begin to tap taxpayers’ money.  The fact is that teachers in more than half of the school districts must wait 25 years before their retirement benefit is worth more than they invested.  However, many teachers may never see this benefit since 72% of current teachers are leaving the profession before even 20 years in the field. 
One solution to this situation is to move from a defined benefits program to a 403(b) retirement plan managed by the staff member with contributions from the school district.  As with all things in life, there are plusses and minuses to this approach.  The plusses are that the money in the investment account belongs to the teacher and is invested tax-free.  Another benefit is that the contribution from the school district is up front and becomes part of that teacher owned investment account.  The downside is the down slide.   Individual investment accounts are not a fixed benefit.  So it is possible that the teacher can lose money.  This scenario is not likely over the long haul but teachers are not known to be risk-takers. 
There is a shortage of teachers in our schools now.  Partly it is the fallout from all the non-teaching demands put on teachers by standardized testing.  And partly it is the fallout from women who make up the majority of teachers, being able to have many more professional options.  The fixed benefit retirement plan has been a big recruiting tool.  

Now the budget reality is hitting up against the recruiting reality.   Maybe the answer is to recruit more risk-taking teachers.  That could benefit instruction as well.