Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The definition of insanity

The Definition of Insanity

One of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  For some reason politicians and members of boards of education think that requiring more and more difficult tests and making these tests high stakes will improve the quality of education our students are receiving.
In the mid-seventies (yes that long ago), the State Superintendent of Schools instituted a testing program called Project Basic.  The idea was that the kids would all have basic skills in reading and math before they graduated.  It didn’t work.  Then came MSPAP, this program was performance based and took hours to administer.  That didn’t work either.  But hey, we weren’t done yet.  Next came the High School Assessments.  These were high stakes.  No pass, no graduate.  Except that too many kids didn’t pass, so the bridge plans were born.  The latest and greatest of this foolishness is the PARCC tests based on the Common Core Curriculum.  About a year ago, the Maryland State Board of Education put into place standards for passing these tests.  The goal was that the passing score would increase each year.  But that “aspirational goal” has been put on hold since at the last administration only about 40% of the students passed the test.  Now the State Board had said that it will be today’s current 6th graders who will be held to the standard for graduation.  Until 2024, students will need to score at least a 3 on the tests for English and algebra on a scale of 1-5.  A score of 4 indicates a student will be able to do college level work.  The funny thing is that even though Project Basic, MSPAP, HSA, and now PARCC were all going to prepare students for college- the kids AREN’T getting better at being prepared for college work.   Zero credit courses required for non-prepared students continue to enroll far too many undergraduates, costing them both time and money to learn what should have been learned in high school.   Colleges report an increase in the number of freshmen needing to take these tests.
Maryland’s high school graduation rate is 80%, its pass rate on the PARCC is 40%.  Obviously, there is a big disconnect.
 There has been some discussion on the State Board about a bold NEW idea.  Under this system, Maryland would award two different diplomas.  One would recognize the student as college ready and the other one would recognize the student as “not-college” ready.   There are two things wrong with this great NEW idea.
First of all, 50+ years ago Maryland had three different high school diplomas- academic, commercial/vocational, and general.  The diplomas recognized the differing talents and aspirations of the students.  Each diploma had different requirements depending upon what was required for the student’s goals.  None of these diplomas addressed what the award was not.  So, the idea is of multiple diplomas is not so new.
Secondly, labeling an award by what it is not is disrespectful to the students, their families and our community.   I recently needed to install some lighting fixtures.   I called an electrician.  He did not go to college.   He could install my fixtures.  I did go to college; I couldn’t do it.  Being vocationally trained is not embarrassing to an  individual or family. Why are State Board members acting like it is.
Smarick, the Board Chair, is worried as well about the number of bridge projects being used by students in low-income districts in order to meet the standard.
For once, the Union is voicing its strong position to tying graduation to an “arbitrary standard that was set by a private testing company.”

Steiner believes “students will gradually begin to live up to the higher standard, but until that time the Board cannot set the standard too high.”   “Politically,” he said, “it’s not conceivable in any state that a high school graduation rate would go below 70 percent.”   Now that’s putting us in touch with reality.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Death by a 1000 compromises

Death by 1000 Compromises

Compromise is a good thing, or maybe not.   Donald Trump has compromised the Office of the President by his immature and narcissistic behaviors.   The teachers’ professional labor unions have compromised the education of the children for whose education they have been entrusted.
Years after No Child Left Behind was going to guarantee us all students would be on grade level by requiring repeated testing, our high school graduates are still entering college unprepared to do the work of higher education.  They waste time and money taking zero credit courses teaching material that was supposed to be learned in high school. All the testing didn't do it.
Federal legislation was also supposed to bring us highly qualified teachers.  That didn’t work out either and it is not unusual for principals to rate well over 90% of their teachers as excellent and almost no one as needing improvement.   We are testing children in kindergarten to find out what they need in reading and math, but pay no attention to what they need in social skills and emotional health.  Just what is kindergarten for?  Illinois is looking for ways to cut the requirements to teach so that they can fill the teacher ranks with warm bodies, not so kids will be better taught.
We need to get back to our roots in education.  Here is what I think that means.   We pay teachers a decent salary but stop trying to bribe them with more money.  Teaching has never been about money.  Instead we show we respect their professionalism by allowing them to decide the pace of instruction and what the kids need.  We reduce the paperwork so energy can go into instructional preparation and individualization instead of creating paper trails that do not help kids but do cover the behind of the school system.  We hold teachers accountable for the emotional well-being of the children within the scope of what they can do.  We let teachers develop relationships with kids so every child has another adult besides his/her parents who he or she can trust.   And for those kids who can’t trust their parents, at least there is one responsible adult in their lives.  Stop with all the testing.  Any teacher worth her salt knows which students are keeping up, which ones are ahead of the pack and who are falling behind.  A good teacher does not need a test to tell her that. 
Can we stop compromising the education of children?  Can so-called professional unions get their mojo back and start caring about the kids instead of their own well being?
In the 1960’s, during the Viet Nm war young people protested the draft by chanting “hell no, we won’t go”.   Nancy Regan suggested we just say no to drug addiction.   Perhaps it is time to return to the last century and stop all these compromises.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How do we get them ready?

How do we get them ready?
Well over half of our local and state tax money goes into the cost of public education.  Why do we invest so much of our money in that one expense?   Very early in our nation’s history it was determined that education was a necessary community cost to provide an educated informed electorate to make democracy function.
Now we are engaged in another great civil war.  Testing, yet again, whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.   How long can we go on hating the “other” and expect our democracy to survive.  Make no mistake about it, humanity and our country have a very long history of hating and attempting to purge the “other” dating back to the original Americans, our native Americans.   Abraham Lincoln toyed with the idea of sending enslaved people back to their land of ancestry.  We pretended we did not notice that most of those people were now born in the U.S.   In the earliest 20th Century we pitted the Irish against the Italians, and barred female Chinese from coming to this country in the hopes of reducing the number of Chinese in our country.  During WWII we removed native born Japanese Americans to detention campus because we didn't trust them.   We were fighting the Germans too but German Americans weren't  locked up because they looked a lot like the rest of us.  We have institutionalized discrimination again women, Jews, African-Americans- you name a group and we have hated them.  We have not stopped until the present day.  Currently the Muslims are up for discrimination.  We have a government that is intent on targeting our differences instead of our similarities.  
The problem is that presently our country is approaching the tipping point of becoming a majority minority nation.  Our public schools are already there.
So, what are we going to do about how we educate our kids for this new reality.  How do we get our children ready to live together in understanding.  Failure to achieve this basic goal will tear our democracy apart.  The primary purpose of the taxpayers financing education is to facilitate the functioning of a democracy.  We need to get back to that.
What do we need to do?   Every high school student should have a course on understanding our nation’s diversity.  Kids that go to one dimensional schools should be given experiences with the “other”.   It is hard to hate people you have had a burger with or solved a problem with.  Familiarity does not only breed contempt, it can also forge understanding and the others' perspective.
Younger children should be allowed to accept differences in others.  If we do not teach them to hate and fear early on, who knows they may not when they get older.
Our nation will survive failing algebra skills it will not survive failing understanding and empathy for each other.  No less than our survival as a nation is at stake if we do not get our children ready to take over as the next generation of leadership.