Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tests promise but fail to deliver

Graduation rates from our nation’s high schools are at an all-time high.  We have had high stakes exit exams across the country for about 20 years.  The passing rates kept going up.  The rates have plunged with PARCC testing but as soon as schools learn to teach to the test I am sure the passing rates will climb or we will lower the level of challenge.

Supposedly these tests and the curriculum they measure are to tell us that students have mastered the curriculum and are prepared for college or careers.  But the reality is terribly different.  The facts show that nearly 60% of students entering 2-year colleges are NOT prepared to do college work.  They are, therefore, being required to take remedial courses that cost them money but do not carry credits toward graduation thereby increasing the cost of what is considered to be an affordable alternative.

The New York Regents exams have a very long and storied history, dating back much before No Child Left Behind's onerous testing requirements.  Yet it is par for the course for students to do exceptionally well on the exams only to discover that they need to do remedial work in college. 

And the problem isn’t just in New York.  In Massachusetts a study by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education found that more than a third of high school students who scored “proficient” on the state-required graduation test and enrolled in a Massachusetts public university or 2-year college were unprepared enough to have to take at least one remedial course. 

For some reason parents and students think that if the child passes the high school exit exams the student is prepared for the next academic level. Imagine that!  How na├»ve!  Pubic school officials opine that many of the students pass these tests as juniors so why would they still remember the content a year or more later when they enter college.  Excuse me, what exactly does the word “learn” mean, or are we talking about “learn to pass the test, then forget”.

Now we are told that this is the reason the PARCC tests are so important.  They represent a whole new academic level that will prepare the student for college.  However, under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, states may use the SAT or ACT exams in lieu of state created tests or the PARCC exams.  So far seven states have opted to do just that and others are considering the choice. 

I am told that in the paperback publishing industry, when a book does not sell the cover is torn off and a new more enticing cover is added to improve sales.   Why do I hear so many book covers being ripped off?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Teachers are not magicians.

Teachers are not Magicians

Democracy is a wonderful system of government.  We believe that all men (and hopefully women too) are created equal.   That mean equal in the eyes of the law.   If the intent of the framers was to describe how we were created, they would have used the adverb “equally”.   I am just so sure the fathers of our country knew their grammar. 
As it is we are in no way equal to each other.  We are tall, short, thin, fat, musical, artistic, and/or athletic.  We are in every way different from each other.  Mostly we do not deny these differences, except in the area of children’s abilities and intelligence.  In that arena we insist we are all equal or at least would be equal if teachers just taught us well enough. 
For many decades Baltimore County, Maryland had school program for gifted and talented students (G&T).   The teachers were trained to help students utilize their superior cognitive abilities.   Projects were designed to push creative thinking.   Children frequently were a year or more above grade level.  Then equality moved in.
Now those children are mixed into heterogeneously grouped classes and teachers are expected to group kids according to ability within the class and teach each group accordingly.  This plan is a terrible idea for lots of reasons.  The smart kids (dare I use the word smart!) are being taught by a teacher who has neither the special skills nor the time to actualize their abilities.  Their abilities will demand the teacher’s attention.   The lowest achieving kids in the group will also demand the teacher’s attention.  These children need a teacher with a different set of skills.  They need a teacher who can break learning down and present multiple ways to learn the same topic.  That, too, takes time.   Then there is the so called middle group of children.  Like the middle child in a family, they are neither the smartest (there is that word again) nor the most challenged.  They will get the least amount of time.  That is possible because most of the learning materials are aimed straight at them so the teacher will not need much time to prepare individually for these kids. 
The school system explains that in the old G&T model children “got the golden ticket and would ride the train from 3rd grade to 12th.”   Evidently that is a bad thing although he did not explain why except to say the chances were low that you could board that golden train later in your school career.   It seems to me that problem could be fixed by just giving more average to low average kids opportunities to grow.  

Heterogeneous grouping is bad for everyone, except the politicians who like the spin of saying all kids are equal.  All students should be given an equal opportunity to learn to their full potential.  That means have teachers with the skill set and the time to teach them in ways that will enhance their achievement.   This plan serves no ones best interest and probably hurts some kids.   But every student will get lots of experience waiting for the teacher to make her rounds until she gets to them.  But since we think teachers are magicians maybe she can materialize into multiple selves. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Is Anyone Responsible?

Is anyone responsible?

Here’s the deal.  Teachers commonly complained that their classrooms were overcrowded.   So Baltimore City Schools CEO Gregory Thornton took some walks through classes.  Funny, the classes were not overcrowded.  So he dug further.
Turns out there are lots of “ghost students” in Baltimore City Schools.  These are kids who show up in the annual September 30 count of students that is reported to the State Department of Education every September 30 for funding by the State.  But they are not showing up in classrooms, overcrowded or not.  There are about 1,900 of those students, representing a great deal of money that would need to be refunded to the State. 
Who is responsible?   Now therein lies the question.
The teachers’ union says teachers are not responsible.   Yes it is true that they are the ones who do the actual counting and submitting the numbers to the principal.   But they are under pressure from the principal to keep kids on the record books who have not been to school in months.
With that line of reasoning, the principals must be responsible for submitting knowingly incorrect information to the central administration.  But the principals’ union explained that their members were not responsible either.   Their members had received pressure from the central administration to keep up enrollments.  AND with the new budgeting system, principals received allotments according to student count. 
So it must be central admin’s fault.  Well of course, it was not the fault of the present central administration.  Thornton has only been in office since 2014 so he and his staff are not responsible for these irregularities.  They have a system in place, it just has not been followed.  The previous administration did the deed.
Tisha Edwards was interim superintendent before Thornton was appointed and after Alonso left.  Of course she is not responsible, she was only the interim superintendent.   We won’t mention that she was second in command under Alonso who declined to comment on the situation.
Where oh where are we left to go to find someone, anyone, who might accept some responsibility- even a tiny bit. 
Not the Board of School Commissioners.   They could not be responsible because no one ever told them about the issue.   Of course, their job is to oversee the school system, but I guess they just wait until someone tells them.
The City Council announced last week that they were not responsible since the city gave some authority for appointing the school CEO to the state in return for money when the system was destitute.  “Destitute” could happen again with the City Schools 60 million in debt and may need to refund money to the State for this latest irregularity.

So it is clear, no one is responsible and mistakes were made.   Perhaps this should be the tag line for Baltimore City Schools.  No one is responsible and mistakes are made.   No wonder no one wants to send his or her kids to be educated here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Children First- not so much

Children First- Not so much 

What am I missing here?   A special education teacher in Ohio gagged a student with a bandana to keep him from spitting.  She strapped another student to a toilet to keep her from falling off.  She forced a third student to sit with her pants down, fully exposed on a training toilet in front of her classmates.  An Ohio Court of Appeals has just ruled that the children’s rights were not violated, although it agreed that the teacher’s behaviors were “abusive”.   Since when is it not a violation of a person’s constitutional rights to be abused without due process of law?  The children all have autism and were between 6 and 11 years of age at the time of the abuse.  Do they not deserve the right to be treated respectfully?

After the allegations were made the teacher was suspended WITH pay for a year while the school district investigated.   A YEAR!   It took a year for the district to determine if there were wrongdoing!   Was there a question here?

The school district came to an agreement with the teacher.  The teacher admitted no wrongdoing.  As part of the agreement the teacher agreed to take 20-30 hours or coursework in special education.  I am betting the issue was not figuring out if there was wrongdoing.   The issue was probably negotiating the settlement with the union and the teacher’s attorney.

Who is protecting our children?   Clearly not the Court of Appeals who agreed the teacher’s behavior was abusive but not a violation of constitutional rights.   Definitely not the school district that paid the teacher for a year while it investigated something that was obvious.   And certainly not a teacher who humiliated and physically assaulted children with disabilities.  We have not a clue how many other kids have been abused by this teacher.  These were the only children we know about.

There are other questions as well.  The settlement requires the teacher to take 20-30 credits in special Ed.   That is quite a range of credits.  Given that many of the abuses were around toileting, these kids are probably at least moderately disabled.  Why was a teacher with minimal training teaching these kids?   One of the many flaws in No Child Left Behind was the failure to designate teachers certified in special education as Highly Qualified.  Special education was not an area in which a teacher could qualify.  Elementary education was such an area.  I do not know what the training was of this teacher.   But she may well have been highly qualified in elementary education but she was not in the least qualified in special education.

If our agencies do not care for these children, they are left to be protected by their parents.   Not a bad plan, but it assumes parents are comfortable enough with the system to use it to protect their children.   Can we just get that woman out of the classroom?   I doubt the credits are going to help all that much.