Monday, January 25, 2016

Is this really not obvious?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is now law.  Once again the Congress and the Federal government is going to fix schools.  They have been trying to do this unsuccessfully for the better part of half a century.   ESSA is going to improve education by lightening up dramatically on the reins the Secretary of Education has over the public school systems of our nation.  Now the U.S. Secretary may not prescribe goals for students, neither long nor short term.  It cannot tell states how to fix failing schools.  States cannot be rewarded nor punished in order to get them to use a particular curriculum, including Common Core.  By the way, this NEVER was a federal curriculum but we won’t go there.  The feds cannot tell states what parameters to use to evaluate teachers, so that means test scores can go for teacher evaluations, only IF states choose.  States can’t be forced to use a specific measure of accountability.  Test scores are supposed to be used for accountability but the feds can’t say how.   I think you get the picture.  This is a state’s rights law.   No Child Left Behind left heavy paw prints on everyone’s behind.   ESSA not so much. NCLB didn’t improve our education system, and truly I doubt ESSA will either.   I have been in education long enough to see the winds blow in multiple directions.

OK, if I am such a hot shot, what would improve our nation's education system?

In my view the biggest impediment to having a top education system is the heavy weight of mediocre and plain bad schoolteachers.   School systems either won’t or can’t get rid of them.   Union rules set up more hoops than a circus acrobat that administrators much jump through. Few administrators have the stomach or the energy to do so.  We need great teachers for differing groups of kids.  Some teachers do really well with kids who are smart and into the liberal arts; other teachers are great in the STEM subjects.  Some humans love to work with kids who are learning challenged.  Other people like to teach the average Joe.   Why don’t we let teachers teach the kinds of kids they like to teach?   We already know that children learn more from teachers they like than they do from the ones they don’t like.   I am betting it works that way for teachers too.

Secondly, if we can get the best teachers in the classrooms with the kinds of kids they like to teach, could we please get out of the way and let them do their jobs!!?   Ditch the pacing guides and the one-size-fits-all curriculum.  Doesn’t work in dresses and doesn’t work in curriculum.   Algebra 2 is great if a kid is going to college in one of the STEM fields, for others they will never use it again.  Why are we wasting the time of those kids?

While we are at it, let’s stop stereotyping low achievers.   Tell the truth, when you read about high risk kids and low achieving kids,  how often does the image of a poor white kid come to mind.   And when you think of a gifted and talented student, do you see an African American student or a student with a disability?  We have these images in our minds of what these kids look like and it is not fair to anyone.  

That’s it.  Clean and simple.  Hire (or fire if needs be) the very best type of teacher for every kind of kid.   Let teachers participate in the groupings.  Let’s not make it a sin to not enjoy working with a particular kind of learner.  Then just give them the materials they need and get out of the way.

I think that might work.  At least it is something that hasn’t been tried yet; and we don’t need a new law to do it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Just when you thought using tests couldn't get any dumber...

Sometimes states do things that are just so stupid; I need to start with a disclaimer.   I am not making this up.
Most readers of this blog know I am no fan of unions, but they do occasionally get it right. 

Florida, not known for its great education program has put 44 million dollars in its budget to create a bonus program for its teachers.  The stupidity comes next.  Education Week ranks Florida 37th and a grade of C in the category of a student’s chance for success in learning.  The system decided to earmark some money for teacher bonuses to reward great teaching. Maybe even improve outcomes.   OK, so far so good.

Bonuses will be awarded based on the teacher effectiveness ratings, which include the test scores of students being taught.  Here comes the craziness.  Also thrown into the mix are the ACT and /or SAT scores of the teachers themselves.  For some of the more experienced teachers these scores could be DECADES old.   Many teachers had a hard time accessing the scores. 

In the union’s complaint with the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Rights, the union alleged that the program discriminated against older teachers who might not be able to find the scores and/or against teachers of color who historically do worse on standardized tests.  The union probably should have also mentioned it discriminated against teachers who were poorly educated in Florida themselves.

All of which is completely off the point.  Has anyone ever shown a correlation between “get into college” standardized tests and the ability to teach school?!  If Florida does not want teachers with low SAT and/or ACT test scores why were these people hired in the first place. 

Given Florida’s rankings in national rankings of public schools, there are lots more places the State can spend its money.  Perhaps Florida might want to go back even further and discover how many times current teachers were on the honor roll when THEY were students.   Can’t be too careful, all this stuff could wind up in your permanent record.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tales from the Battlefield

Tales from the battlefield

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the newest rendition of federal law that is supposed to ensure that “every good boy does fine” for those of you who remember the musical scale.  ESSA will make sure every student succeeds even thought its predecessor No Child Left Behind (NCLB)left lots of kids and teachers behind.  Both of these laws are supposed to merge with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensuring that children with disabilities are provided with an education tailored to their individual needs so that they would not be left behind and would succeed in school.

All of this could give a person a warm fuzzy feeling until we looked at what was going on with the troops on the ground.  These are real stories about real children that have happened in the last few months.

Story 1.  This is about an elementary age little girl who has written language problems that are documented on her IEP.   She is supposed to have accommodations in testing and instruction for this challenge.   Her classroom assessments have her writing her answers to questions and/or doing multiple choices.  When the educational advocate asked if the child would do a better job of describing what she knew if she could answer the questions orally, the teacher readily agreed that she would.   The advocate asked if the point of the assessment was to measure what the child knew in the content area.   The teacher agreed that was the objective.  When the advocate asked why then the child would not be tested in a manner that truly showed what she knew on the subject, the answer was “because that is not how we test.”

Story 2:  This story is about a 17 year old boy who has an IEP and documented attention deficit disorder.  He also has anxiety issues, some obsessive-compulsive issues and some learning problems.  His instruction has not been modified to address these challenges even though the IEP does spell out how the modifications should happen.  The young man has increasingly been missing school.  The principal called the mom into his office and recommended that her son be withdrawn from school so that he would not have a “record” of being truant.   The mother complied.   There was no mention of having a meeting to determine if the boy’s absences were a manifestation of his documented disability.  Do not be concerned that federal law requires such meetings or that students with disabilities are one of the subgroups in NCLB and ESSA that need special attention.

Story 3:  An eight year old boy is in a third grade class.   He has an IEP.  The IEP requires certain accommodations be made for his learning issues.  The mom went to school for a progress report.  She noticed that her son was not receiving the accommodations required by the IEP and she asked why.  The teacher responded that the 8-year old boy had never requested the accommodations be given to him.  The mom asked if it was reasonable to expect an 8-year old to know his IEP requirements and to ask for them.   The teacher responded, of course.

So almighty Congress, you keep on working hard and passing those laws.  Something is not getting through to the battlefield and the pens on the Smartboards are not reaching the children sitting at the desks.  Clearly, there is someone not getting the message.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Permission to be nice- don't forget to ask

Permission to be Nice

One of the things the world is lacking is a little kindness.  A teacher at Towson Senior High School in Baltimore County Maryland thought it might be a good project for her students to spread some kindness.  She asked each one of them to do something kind or nice for someone else.  Students did not have to participate but most of them did.  The kids had a month to perform three acts of kindness toward someone else.  They could choose whatever acts they wanted to do.  Some kids baked cookies for a school staff member they thought was less appreciated.  Some things were pretty simple and obvious like helping an elderly person retrieve some items from an upper shelf in the grocery store.  One student visited someone in hospice care.   Someone else complimented five people for something during the course of the school day.  For some of the students these activities were way out of their comfort zones.  For others, not so much.
Okay, so far this is just sweet story about kids having a positive experience.  Now comes the weird thing.  Teaching kids to be kind is NOT part of the Baltimore County Curriculum! Imagine that!  So in order to do this project, the teacher had to request permission in writing of the central office administration.  Evidently the situation has come down to asking permission to teach kids something the world needs so much more of, when we should be teaching them stuff that they will never use again once they pass the test.   Every single employer study reports that employees need to be better at working together with diverse groups.   I am betting being kind to co-workers and customers would be a good thing as well.
Here is the other rub.   Only Honors students and Advanced Placement students were allowed to participate.  What is the message here, not so smart kids don’t have time to be kind?   Or maybe they don’t have any interest in being kind?   Since these events occurred outside of class time what was the big deal? 

The teacher said that next year she hoped to expand the project.  Hope she gets that request in in triplicate and gets it in early.  We need special permission from administration to teach something the kids really need.