Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What language do you speak at your house?

Ok, so I am often chastised for talking too much.   Guilty as charged.   However, that is not necessarily a bad thing and if I had an infant in my house it would be a good thing.   The single most important element in academic achievement is language ability.  Children growing up in homes where language is used often and in positive ways are much more likely to do well in school and to be high achieving in life.
One of the most famous studies is 20 years old this year.   That study followed 42 infants who were just learning to talk.  The families were 13 middle class families, 10 professional families, 10 families of working class backgrounds and 6 families on public assistance.  The results were staggering.  It was not just the huge difference in the number of words the babies heard per hour- 2,150 for professional families, 1,250 for working class families, and only 600 for babies in families of people on welfare.  There were also huge differences in the quality of both the words and the language.
Children in professional families heard more unique words.  But even more importantly they heard encouraging words and sentences that asked their opinions.  From simple things like, "What flavor ice cream do you want?", to more complicated questions, "why do you like that flavor best?".   Children from families on welfare heard mostly disciplinary language, "don't touch that", "stay put".
When these children were followed into early elementary school they were found to have discipline problems in school more often than their peers with better language skills, were unable to express themselves with language and lagging in all the language arts.   Their interactions with other children were often negative and constrained by an inability to express themselves.
The children from the higher language homes did better in school and tested higher on IQ tests.  We don't know if the language facility of these children led to their higher scores or if they were just inherently brighter.  We do know that their language skills would improve performance on these language based tests.
Just talking more is a very simplistic solution.  We need to help parents to use more complex language in speaking with children.  We need to help parents have conversations with their children.  Lecturing a child on his/her behavior is not a conversation.  Giving direction orders is not a conversation.
 Playing games with a child is a great way to engage in the give-and-take of a conversation.  If we think of language development much like a game of catch.  I throw the ball to you and you throw it back to me.  I ask you a question and you answer me.  Then you ask me a question and I answer you, pretty soon we have a conversation going.  Then we add some adjectives and adverbs and before you know it we are enriching our language to the point that we are both expressing how we feel.  If we want to play major league ball, we can add a metaphor or simile.  The language spoken at my house is like a salmon swimming upstream, you need to fight the waves of language coming at you from all sides.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Racketeering Teachers

The latest and greatest fall out from the stupidity of high stakes testing now has teachers and administrators in Atlanta Georgia sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison serving seven of them behind bars.   Educators were convicted of falsifying test results on Georgia's high stakes testing.  The district attorney charged the school employees with racketeering because the higher test scores earned bonuses for the teachers and administrators. He believed they conspired for financial gain.   The judge in the case urged defense attorneys to come to a deal with the district attorney.  However, to do so, the defendants would have to give up any right to an appeal.  A deal the defendants didn't want to take.  People who took the deals got weekends in jail or a year of home confinement.  

Across the country there have been multiple other cheating scandals with high stakes testing.
In every other situation, the guilty parties have lost licenses to teach, been put on probation and/or lost their jobs.   Only in Georgia have the guilty parties been subject to jail sentences.  Surly these people are not a threat to society so what is the point of putting them in jail.  Doing so wastes taxpayer money and significantly disrupts lives. One of the teachers is due to give birth in July and then she will be sentenced in August.   Did these people do something very wrong?  Absolutely they did.  But does the punishment fit the crime, absolutely not.

In my view the DA is simply being a big bully and the judge is going along for the grandstand ride.  The judge went on a tear about how this act was not a victimless crime and even stated that because the students were passed along from grade to grade without learning what they needed to learn, the kids grew up and landed in jail. That was quite a leap of logic from cheating on one test exam! The tests had nothing to do with passing or failing the grade.  Guess the judge missed that point. If the judge really believes the school system is failing kids, then why not bring the whole system up before the bench to answer for the poor education the kids are getting.   Better yet, how about bringing the legislators before the court for failing to put enough money into the school system.

High stakes testing has been going on for 30 years since the first installment of No Child Left Behind.  Evidence has shown that the U.S. is no further along in improving its education outcomes relative to other countries than it was before we had high stakes testing.  Colleges are doing just as much remedial work as they ever did.  It is wonderful that the district attorney and the judge got to rattle sabers and sound the clarion call for punishing test cheaters.   But surely there are real racketeers in Atlanta.  Maybe it would be good for these tough guys to go after real bad guys.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jobs stop bullets

If these young adults had a job to go to every day they wouldn't be robbing convenience stores and/or selling drugs.  If large corporations paid a living wage to full time employees the tax burden on the rest of us would be a great deal less.  If Americans were willing to do jobs that required hard work we wouldn't need to import so many Hispanics to do those jobs.  That is a lot of "ifs" and if is such a small word.

A job is very important to our identity.  It is often the first question we ask when we meet someone new.  "So what do you do?"   We are asking about the person's job.  Mostly people respond with the job title or job function, or admit they are between jobs.  Generally people do not announce they are law breakers.  But in order to have a job the employee must have a skill that contributes to the employer's bottom line.  Businesses are money making organizations.   Employees need to know how to do something.  A business is not going to hire someone just because that person would like to work.  Unfortunately our schools are not teaching kids how to earn a living.  We are testing people on algebra skills.   How many of us use algebra on our jobs?   We are testing people on English skills.  That is important but we are not testing on the language skills that are needed in the workplace.  Those would be speaking skills and the ability to make an argument in writing. Even with all this testing, the majority of 4th graders are not reading on grade level.   We are NOT testing people on soft job skills such as showing up on time, responding to supervision, having good attendance.

Corporations are getting by with paying full time workers the minimum wage.  But you cannot support a family on the minimum wage.  Consequently, full time working families are using food stamps, medicaid and income tax credits.  That means the rest of us taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart, McDonalds and Home Depot.  I, for one, don't want to do that.  These companies make huge profits, they need to pay their workers before they pay the top brass and the stockholders.  Recently some corporations have announce hourly rate increases to $9 or $10 per hour.  That comes out to about $20,000 per year at $10 an hour for 50 weeks, at 40 hours per week.  A family cannot live on that.  We need to make everyone, including our legislators, understand that these safety nets are really subsidies for big business.  A decent living wage would attract more people to these jobs and save the rest of us a great deal in taxes.

Then there is the other issue of hard work.  People who run farms, landscaping businesses, poultry or seafood processing plants- all complain that Americans will not do this hard work even for $16 an hour.  The business owners want to import seasonal workers from Mexico who are willing to come to this country and do this work for the season and then return to their native country. But our Congress and the Immigration Department are preventing these workers from coming here under the guise of saving jobs for U.S. residents.  Except that U.S citizens don't seem to want these jobs and the safety nets are making sure they do not need to take them to survive.

Jobs stop bullets, but the situation is not all that simple.  There are so many ifs...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Educators-Don't prostitute your lives

Strong words connecting educator with prostitute.  Think about it.  The traditional meaning of the word prostitute is someone who sells his/her body for money.  Currently there are thousands of educators who are prostituting their lives for money.  You answer the question which is worse, while I explain.
Every day of late, I read about parents who are resisting the annual testing programs originally brought about by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  These tests have been combined and expanded by the testing conglomerates Smarter Balance and Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC).  This group of tests are designed to measure Common Core skills of the new curriculum.  The curriculum itself does not require testing but NCLB does so many states are simply using the two stones to kill one bird so to speak.   These new tests can take as long as 8 hours for kids to take.  They take the tests on multiple days, several times a year.  Parents are up in arms and calling for "sick outs" on testing days.
Where are the educators?   They are mumbling in faculty lounges, grousing at cocktail parties.  What are they not doing?  They aren't organizing their unions to fight these tests.   They are not organizing letter campaigns to the local press and online venues to describe how the students are suffering under this extended testing time.  They are not bombarding social media with anecdotes about how bad the situation is.
Why aren't they doing this?   In private they will tell you they do not want to put their jobs at risk.  That is a bunch of bull hockey.  Anyone who has ever tried to fire a teacher will tell you it is an arduous task not for the faint of heart.  The unions have built in enough protections that it is extremely difficult to release a teacher, and certainly not for the mere exercise of a citizen's first amendment rights.
Teachers as a group are a bunch of sheep.  That is how we got NCLB to begin with.  Can you imagine the medical profession, the bar association or any other professional group going quietly to slaughter as the Congress regulated and changed their profession?  Yet the educational unions gave out not a peep as NCLB fever swept the country.  Even at the time every right thinking person knew it was a joke that all kids would be on grade level by 2014 and we would get there by excessive testing and calling out schools/districts and states that were not marching toward that goal in a timely fashion.
Teachers are supposed to be child advocates.  They are supposed to care deeply about their students.  And I do think that the vast majority do.  They are not known for backbone.  Right now Congress is debating a newer version of NCLB.  They are even working on re-branding it since the current name does not exactly instill love in our hearts.  Annual testing is still in the draft version.  Educators who believe annual testing is not beneficial to kids need to weigh in.  Speak up!  Stop selling out your professional judgement.  Don't prostitute your lives.