Please, son, be anything else. Anything.

02/20/2012
English: teacher

Image via Wikipedia

I love my son.

He is a high school senior about to decide what college to attend. One of his criteria is which school to which he’s been accepted has the best program to prepare him for his chosen professional goal.

I very much want my son to be happy in his work because if he is it will not seem like work.

He wants to be a high school English teacher.

I am trying very hard to talk him out of it.

My son loves to read and read at a high school level in fifth grade.

His current English teacher has him co-teaching a couple of lessons in the class. No other student is doing that.

Another of his HS English teachers told my wife and me “the greatest gift I could give my profession would be for your son to become an English teacher.”

Heady stuff, indeed.

My son could possibly be a very good English teacher. That is why I am trying to talk him out of it.

These days, very good is not good enough.

That’s the illogic of the new teacher assessment deal that NY Governor Cuomo pushed for and that the spineless NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) agreed to. Under this plan a teacher rated excellent by his principal and by other local teacher assessments would be rated as ineffective if his students did not show growth on the one day state tests are administered, even though those tests are only supposed to be 40% of the teacher’s rating.

How are we supposed to teach math when our governor and the state teacher union agree that 40% of X is larger than 60% of X?

No matter what else the teacher does, no matter how good he is on the other 179 days of the school year, he cannot be rated as anything other than ineffective if the test scores don’t go up enough. If that happens two years in a row he can be fired, even if he has tenure.

Indicted murderers are presumed innocent until judged guilty by a jury of their peers.
Tenured teachers are presumed ineffective, despite acquittal by their administrators.

How can I let my son become a teacher under a system that is as illogical and as unfair as the one his father will be working under starting next year?

Oh, wait. I’m a librarian. I don’t have students whose test scores can be compared year-to-year. No matter. The school’s total overall test scores will affect my job rating, whether or not most or any of the students come into the library and whether or not I have any influence on their performance on those one day exams.

More logic. Impressive.

Kid, I love you.

Become a mortician, a lawyer, a barber, or an accountant.

Pick rags for a living.

English: Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West,...

Just don’t become a teacher.

It just isn’t a good job anymore.


I’m Tired of Talking About Education

12/28/2011

Actually, I’m not.

I’m going to spend the rest of this essay talking about it.

I am very tired of talking about school, especially with people who think we are talking about education.

Education and school is not the same thing and I can prove it. School takes place for six, seven or ten hours a day. Education takes place 24/7/365.25.

Learning and Schooling

Image by colemama via Flickr

If you don’t know why there is a .25 after the 365 you don’t need more school. Chances are the teachers don’t know either. You, and they, need more education.

Education, a.k.a. learning, comes from asking questions (Hey, Educationontheplate, why is there a .25 after the 365?) and getting, or better yet, finding or developing answer. Go to it.

People are sponges; we learn all the time. People learned long before there were schools and we will continue to learn long after schools finally choke on the curriculum they try to regurgitate and die.

English: Flowchart of the steps in the Scienti...

Image via Wikipedia

From the moment we are born, and possibly even before then, we are observing, noticing patterns, making assumptions, testing them, revising them and starting over. This may sound familiar to science teachers who call this the “scientific method” and try to teach it to students who really just need to have it pointed out that this so-called method is what they’ve been doing naturally their entire lives.

What students do naturally, what we all do naturally, is learn. 24/7/365.25. We do it with or without schooling and often do it in spite of schooling. Schooling comes with an agenda but learning often does not. As in my life, and perhaps frequently, schooling gets in the way of learning.

It is true in kindergarten where the natural learning and socialization of play has been replaced by reading, writing, algebra and being yelled at for not standing in line properly. All this is to ready students for first grade. Children learn in spite of this.

In first grade students read more, write more, and follow more directions to get them ready for second grade. Children continue to learn in spite of this. Sometimes they’ve already learned that school is not right for them by testing it and finding that it does not meet their needs. When that happens we schoolers tell the student that he or she is not right for school, that they are not meeting the school’s needs for order, discipline and standing in line silently and we start to teach them that they are failures.

This is what school is best at: teaching students that they are inadequate, that they are failures.

They fail to stand in line correctly, form their letters correctly, or form their sentences and paragraphs according to the standards (I wonder what school thought of John Barth, e.e.cummings, Hemingway, Jonathan Safran Foer or, especially, Roberto Bolaño, known for incredibly long sentences, not to mention devastatingly evocative metaphors). They write like writers instead of three or five paragraph automatons and we call them failures.

Learning is free-range, we learn from what we manage to be exposed to; school has a curriculum (math, science, ELA, etc.) and a meta-curriculum (how to stand in line, how to raise one’s hand for permission to speak, the procedure for going to the bathroom).

I work in a school that’s part of a school network that’s part of a school system. That school system is one of 14,514 school districts in the USA (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). I’m willing to bet that at least 99% of those districts have the word ‘school’ in their name and that fewer than .0001 have the word ‘learning’ in their name.

But think about this: No one fails to learn yet many fail at school.

American Education is in the Dumpster

Image by brewbooks via Flickr

I’m tired of talking about school.

I’m tired of thinking about school.

I’ll never get tired of thinking and talking about learning.

Learning is education.

School is something else entirely.

Resource:

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, “Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey,”2000-01 and “Local Education Agency Universe Survey,” 2000-01.

For those who haven’t figured out 365.25 yet, a clue: leap years.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Oh boy! Now You Can Take the Tests.

12/14/2011
Standardized Test

Earlier this week I wrote a post called Standardized Tests, good for the geese, good for the ganders in which I challenged everyone who has anything to do with the setting of education policy to follow the lead of one stalwart school board member and take the tests they make students take.

Thanks to the Washington Post’sAnswer Sheet column I took an abbreviated version of the Florida 10th grade math and English tests. I did it at 11:30 at night after being up since 5:00AM, working a full day and taking five hours of grad school classes. You’re allowed to use a calculator and look up general equations like Pythagorean or the volume of a cylinder.

I don’t mean to brag, but I did it all in my head without a calculator and without looking anything up. I got perfect scores in both sections of seven questions each, all in about five minutes.

You can take the same mini-test I did or a sample of the Texas, California, New York, Virginia, Washington DC. or Maryland tests. Let me know which ones you took and how you did. And challenge your governor, your school board members, your state department of education administrators, and your president to relive their adolescence by taking the tests and making public the results.

This should be fun. It was for me, but I’m strange that way.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Standardized tests: good for the geese, good for the ganders.

12/11/2011
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

Image via Wikipedia

Something remarkable happened the other day.

A school board member in one of the nation’s largest school districts had the temerity to take the 10th grade standardized tests that he and his cohorts require students to take.

I think this is an excellent idea.

After all, if the tests are appropriate to see what students know then they are also necessary to see what school board members know. School board members should be required to take the same tests students are required to take. To be fair, I’d only require them to take the 10th grade tests. I wouldn’t want to challenge them too much.

Standardized tests are necessary to see what members of state boards of education know. If the state requires an exit exam so students can graduate from high school, then that is the exam the state board members should take. If they can’t pass them they should be removed from their positions and required to repeat high school.

Standardized tests are also necessary to see what the mayors who control school systems and the chancellors they appoint know. After all, if the tests are adequate to judge teacher ability they must certainly be able to judge the ability of the people who hire the teachers, set curriculum and allocate assets to schools.

President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

Arne Duncan should take standardized tests. So should President Obama.

And the results of those exams should be made public.

In fact, standardized testing is a great way to see which of the presidential candidates is most up to the demands of the job, which one can understand the math of the budget or the tax system. I’m sure Newt, Mitt, John, Rick, Ron and even Michelle could pass those tests with flying colors.

I’m starting a movement to have everyone who sets educational policy take the standardized tests, the same ones students do.

Join me. Send a tweet, a text, an email or phone to your school board members, your state legislators, your Congress people, Senators and presidential candidate of choice. Tell them that it is time for them to sit down with a couple of #2 pencils and show us what they know.

After all, it is only fair.

Enhanced by Zemanta

$4704

10/15/2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghani...

Image via Wikipedia

$4704

…pays for about 1/10th of one second of advertising in the Super Bowl this year.

$4704

…pays for 1.5 seconds of the US’s involvement in Afghanistan.

$4704

That’s my budget for library media for this entire school year.

$4704

That includes all audio-visual materials, books, magazines/ periodicals/newspapers, maps/globes, tapes, microfilms, and computer software for use in the library.

$4704

That’s $6.25 per student enrolled in the school last October.

$4704

That $6.25 per student rate was set by the NY State legislature in 1999.

$4704

US total inflation from June 2000, to June 2011 is 30.93% according to inflationdata.com

$4704

Inflation in the rate budgeted per student 0%

$470

“Most school libraries managed to escape the economic trials of 2010 largely unscathed––with the exception of those in high-poverty areas, which saw significant declines in spending on information resources and in collection size.”
American Library Association report on the State of American Libraries.

$4704

My school is in the poorest Congressional district in the nation.

$4704

Perhaps I should be grateful that my budget has not gone down.

$4704

I’m not.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Censorship in Schools: More than makes the headlines

08/14/2011
censorship [remix]

Image by the|G|™ via Flickr

Book challenges and banning get all the media attention but they are a small minority of the censorship that occurs in schools.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), 11,000 book challenges occurred in the past 20 years.

To call attention to these challenges and highlight the books banned as a result, the last week of September each year is designated Banned Book Week by the ALA and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

It is absolutely imperative to defend intellectual freedom and fight against book challenges, but in paying so much attention to them, it is easy not to notice the more pervasive and far more prevalent censorship that occurs in every public school every minute it is open.

I’m talking about censorship of the Internet.

The federal Children’s Internet Protection Act requires schools to ensure that children are not exposed to sexually explicit words and images in order to qualify for Federal technology subsidies. Almost all schools accomplish that by using filters that are designed to stop obscenity before it reaches student computers.

Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against blocking student access to pornography at school, they get more than enough exposure to sexual messages in the mainstream media. But internet filters block much more than pornography.

“What we have is what I consider brute force technologies that shut down wide swaths of the internet, like all of YouTube, for example. Or they may shut down anything to do with social media, or anything that is a game. These broad filters aren’t very helpful because we need more nuanced filtering.” Karen Cator, United States Department of Education Director of Education Technology (Barseghian, 2011).

seive

Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

Even the National Educational Technology Plan notes that in some cases internet filtering “creates barriers to the rich learning experiences that in-school internet access should afford students” and that tools such as blogs, wikis and social networks have the potential to support student learning and engagement.

Some argue that the anxiety over the internet that leads to filtering has less to do with possible student exposure to pornography or other sexual content and more to do with fear of unfettered ideas and the technology through which ideas are transmitted.

“Filters would not be placed on computers if government officials, religious moralists and the competitive marketplace didn’t feel their control slipping away or threatened” (Bissonnette, 2003).

Decisions about what to filter are made by filtering companies that are not held accountable to anyone and which refuse to explain the criteria for their decisions because they are trade secrets.

Educators and educational needs have been totally taken out of the picture.

New Canaan High School librarian Michelle Luhtala says the same issues of censorship, fear and free speech that make banned books resonate also apply to social networking sites that most schools block.

“Teaching with social media shows students how to responsibly use those platforms. Blocking access denies kids the chance to practice sharing their knowledge with the real world in a supervised setting” (Toppo, 2011)

Thanks largely to her efforts the ALA and AASL have declared September 28th to be Banned Sites Day.

One day. It is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to protect student intellectual freedom and access to all age-appropriate learning materials.

Despite the efforts to restrict or cleanse the materials in school libraries, racial slurs, bullying, obscene language, sex scenes and violence will always appear in books students read. There will always be challenging themes, emotionally charged scenes, and characters with few traits to admire.

“Pretending there are no choices to be made — reading only books, for example, which are cheery and safe and nice is a prescription for disaster for the young,” asserts author Lois Lowry who has seen her book The Giver challenged and removed from libraries.

“Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world of The Giver, the world where there are no bad words, no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted.”

“And that is the most dangerous world of all.”

References

American Library Association (2011). Number of Challenges by Year, Reason, Initiator & Institution (1990 – 2010). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengesbytype/index.cfm

Barseghian, T. (2011, April 26). Straight from the DOE facts about blocking sites in schools. Retrieved from http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/04/straight-from-the-doe-facts-about-blocking-sites-in-schools/

Bissonnette, S.T. (2003). Smothering Free Speech. Journal of Library Administration; 2003, Vol. 39 Issue 2/3, p87-105. doi: 10.1300/J111v39n02_08

Lowry, L. (2005). A dangerous utopia. RHI for High School Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.com/highschool/RHI_magazine/pdf3/Lowry.pdf

National Educational Technology Plan. US Dept. of Ed. 2010, 54.

Toppo, G. (2011, July 25). Web restrictions draw ire of some educators. USA Today Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-07-25-banned-websites-school_n.htm

Enhanced by Zemanta

The End of an Era

04/07/2011
Black

It is over.

It didn’t even last five full months, but it is over.

Kathie Black, the woman Mayor Bloomberg said was the best person to “provide the leadership our school system needs to carry out our reforms,” resigned as schools chancellor today.

Her appointment, despite having no experience in education, was justified by Mayor Bloomberg who, in a letter to the State Commissioner of Education, said her “broad range of experience and skills to solve complex problems in the face of controversy, motivate staff, communicate with and bring together diverse constituents, manage labor relations, use data in decision making, and create and maintain a culture of change and excellence” qualified her for the job.

In fact, he call repeatedly called her the only person he even considered for the job because she was the best candidate.

But Ms. Black never developed credibility with parents, teachers, administrators or any of the other constituencies involved in the NYCDOE. Her popularity plummeted from what never were high levels, but as late as Monday the Mayor said he didn’t care what the polls said because Ms. Black was the best person for the job.

I guess now we’ll get the second best.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

03/22/2011
The principal's office of Union City High Scho...

Image via Wikipedia

I really like my principal. When his office door is open it is almost always okay to just walk in and talk to him. He’s smart, generally fair, willing to listen to ideas and different opinions. He gives useful, timely feedback on formal observations and more frequent informal ones. He talks to you in private. Most of all, he is consistent. Our school has very little teacher turnover. Our school rating has been rising steadily.

I’m not trying to butter him up; I just want to show how very different he is from the first principal I worked for.

It was impossible to just walk into that first principal’s office because it was behind a thick Plexiglas barrier and she had to buzz you in even to approach her. She was not open to ideas and had no interest in what parents or people on her staff thought or had to say. She regularly yelled at teachers in front of their students. She’d love you one day or year but hate you the next.

Barrier - PCA 93

Image by Donald Macleod via Flickr

Feedback was rarely constructive and hardly timely; I’m still waiting for the results of her 2006 observation of my lesson.

On more than one occasion she changed the rating of a lesson observed by one of the assistant principals from satisfactory to unsatisfactory even though she was not present at the observation.

She once said in public, “I like my new white teachers better than my old white teachers.” I was a second year white teacher and turnover was so high it wasn’t clear whether I was new or old.

The first year that teachers could transfer without prior principal approval more than 70% of that school’s teachers moved on to other schools, including all of the fifteen or so first and second year teachers. The same thing happened the following year. That school’s rating declined consistently and now it is being closed.

I bring this all up because right now a 50-person state of New York task force is in a big hurry to develop a new teacher rating program. They want it written before the end of June so the regents can approve it and regulations can be developed to implement it in September.

You’d think that they’d want to test the never-before-tried plan before they broadly apply it, but no. Apparently teacher livelihoods are not so important that you’d want to make sure the system was fair, workable and accurate before using it to make decisions affecting the continuation of their careers.

Under the plan, teacher ratings as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective would be based 20% on student performance on state tests, 20% on school-district tests (that don’t now exist) or unspecified other measures, and 60% on classroom observations and other reviews. It is not at all clear what the basis for rating teachers in non-testing subjects — social studies, art, music, phys ed among others — or librarians would be.

Teachers rated as ineffective two years in a row will be subject to a hearing regarding the termination of their employment.

Governor Cuomo says, “We need a legitimate evaluation system to rely on.”

Absolutely, but this isn’t it.

The Journal News reports at least one educator on the panel creating the system, South Orangetown school superintendent Kenneth Mitchell, thinks the state is moving forward recklessly, “There’s a real potential for implosion…you need years to make these changes.”

One of the regents says he fears that forcing a new system on districts in such a short period of time could lead to unforeseen costs and worse.

“It’s gotten so far out of hand, but there’s nothing we can do at this point. If mistakes are made and the data is flawed, it would be terrible to make it public. People will say ‘I don’t want my kid in that person’s class.’”

Did you notice that not even the people worried about this program never mentioned the possible effect it could have on teacher livelihoods?

This is why teachers like me support unions.

United Federation of Teachers

Image via Wikipedia

Without my union standing up for people like me principals like my first one could ruin careers on a whim.

Without my union standing up for me I would be leery of disagreeing with my principal no matter how much I thought he might be on the wrong track.

Without my union standing up for me I would not be able to say my chancellor, a very capable woman in the publishing field, is completely inexperienced, unqualified and unsuited to run a school system of any size, not to mention the biggest one in the country, and that by appointing her our mayor insulted the students, their parents, and everyone who works in the NYCDOE, no matter how true it is.

Without my union no teacher would be entitled to a fair hearing on disciplinary matters.

Without my union no parent would have any voice in the operation of their children’s schools.

Without my union the billionaires like Bill Gates.would not have anyone standing up to them as they privatized public education. Would anyone listen to him about anything to do with eduction if he didn’t have all that money?

Without my union the special education students would get lost in the shuffle and not get their mandated services.

Without my union standing up for people like me I would not have received the quality education I got from the NYC public schools.

Without my union standing up for me I’d be afraid to write this blog post.

That’s why teachers like me support unions.


It Isn’t In the Air

03/18/2011
Chalk Dust

Image by scholz via Flickr

It’s not in the water.

It’s not in our food.

It’s neither in the music we hear nor the news we watch.

It is certainly not in the chalk dust we breathe.

None of those things hold the magic to make a good teacher better and a better teacher great.

How does it happen?

It happens through the structured processes of teachers learning from better teachers.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble when I tell you it isn’t quite that simple.

Not even the best teachers among us are good at teaching everything. No one teacher will ever tell you that they know all there is to know about teaching. If your kid’s teacher ever says that to you RUN to the principal’s office and have your child’s class changed.

Teaching is incredibly complex and very hard to do very well, just like being a nuclear physicist. Fortunately, the people most likely to be bad teachers never try teaching at all. Most of the rest of the people who turn out to be bad teachers quit within the first three years.

So much for the new teachers being the best ones. Enthusiasm is great but it only carries one so far. You don’t get to become one of the best unless you hang around for a while, at least until the magic happens and you get to rub shoulders, work hard and learn from better teachers than yourself.

As much as I champion incidental learning, there is a lot to be said for structure in the process of learning complex things, things like nuclear physics and teaching.

All the politicians say they want better teachers, but they act like developing them is just a matter of drinking the right water, breathing sweeter (or maybe smoggier) air, or perhaps they think we need to breath the dust of colored chalk instead of bland white.

I know they think this way not because they say so. Oh no, they say just the opposite, but I learned a long time ago to pay no attention to what politicians say; you have to watch what they do.

What they’re doing is planning to take all the funds away from the National Writers Project, the Teaching American History program, and all the other programs that provide the instructional and experiential structures that turn good teachers better and better teachers more so.

This is a map of the NWP's local Writing Proje...

Image via Wikipedia

Times are tough. Teachers are being laid off. Class sizes are getting bigger and bigger. Those teachers who will be in the classrooms come September will have to do much more with much less.

Don’t we want them, don’t we want us, to be able to do the best possible job, to teach our sons and daughters to be capable, confident writers, to help them understand that history is made daily and that actions today determine our future as much as any event or person in the past?

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Write, call or, better yet, camp out in the office or front lawn of your Congressperson or Senator. Make them understand that great teaching is not as simple as breathing and that it doesn’t come out of a sparkling spring. Tell them the ugly truth and make them face it.

Great teachers are made the hard way. Through working at it in superlative programs like the National Writers Project and Teaching American History.
Tell your Congressman that they can’t have it both ways. They can’t complain about bad teaching while pulling the funding from the programs that improve teachers.

Insist that the National Writers Project and Teaching American History be funded now, tomorrow, next year and for as long as there are teachers willing to work hard to make themselves better at their craft.

Otherwise they should just shut up.

This is being cross-posted at the Cooperative Catalyst, a collective blog by people who care deeply about the state of learning in this country and are trying to figure out how to fix it and this post is part of the #blog4nwp effort to save a very worthwhile program.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Are You Paying Attention? Is Anyone?

03/08/2011
July calendar

Image by Vanessa Pike-Russell via Flickr

Sometimes I wonder if logic has totally departed from this world.

Example 1: The NY State Board of Regents

This well-educated group of fifteen or so individuals who set education policy in the state seems to have lost touch with logic. At a time when almost everyone, including teachers, is saying that the school system as we know it needs more-or-less radical change, the NY Regents are proposing four more weeks of school per year.

Yes, you read that right.

They want to do more of what isn’t working.

I often tell my students that if the approach they’re taking to solve a problem isn’t working they should try something else; that doing more of what isn’t working in the first place and expecting a different result is a form of insanity.

I think the air conditioning in their offices is making the Regents stupid because they now think that having school until the end of July is going to produce smarter kids. I guess it is possible.

The problem is that the Regents won’t recognize the real smart kids. They’ll be the ones who refuse to spend the summer sitting in sweltering classrooms doing the same stuff that hasn’t helped them learn during the previous ten months.

Example 2: People who still want to be teachers.

Teaching requires more education for less pay than almost any other job. Plus it has the added benefit of getting blamed for all of society’s current problems and, likely, all the ones in the next 50 to 100 years should society last that long.

The paperwork is overwhelming, and you’ll have to pull money out of your pocket to pay for supplies, some of them very basic, that the taxpayers either can’t or won’t pick up the tab for.

Teachers put in long days during which bathroom trips need to be scheduled in advance, then take work home in the evenings and on weekends, all the time listening to people who have never done the job and probably couldn’t tell you how easy it is.

It is said that teachers tend to come from the bottom of their graduating class. I can prove it. Despite all the attacks and everything else, people still want to become teachers.

There’s got to be something wrong with them.

I once proposed that people who want to be President of the United States should be disqualified from the job because their egos are too big.

I now think that people who want to be teachers should be disqualified from the job because their egos are too small.

Example 3: You

You’re still reading this, after all.

Enhanced by Zemanta